Inspiration for Japan - EU immigration policy?

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The Japan Times reported on a conference sponsored by the European Commission in Hakone, Japan, where European Union and Japanese officials stated that Japan could look to the EU for ideas on formulating a strategic immigration policy as the nation deals with impending labor shortages.

The EU put in place a legal framework for an immigration policy with the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. While there have been problems implementing the strategy, Philippe de Bruycker, a professor Free University of Brussels, says progress has been made.

"The EU has accepted the idea of a long-term residence directive, which is like the permanent residency category in Japan. The EU has agreed that, after five years of legal residence, foreign workers can enjoy nearly the same legal status as EU citizens and will be protected against expulsion," said de Bruycker.

Unfortunately, he added, there is no consensus on how to deal with migrant workers who have been in the EU for less than five years. Member states have yet to reach an agreement on the types of immigrants to accept and how many should be accepted.

Japan counts only two million registered foreigners and has historically been a closed country in relation to immigration. Only recently has the government started to seriously consider bringing in large amounts of migrant workers to make up for future labor shortages.

According to some statistics, Japan's population will drop from 127 million people to 100 million by 2050. The government has responded by encouraging more employment by the elderly and women. While some ministries - such as the Ministry for Economy, Trade, and Industry and the Justice Ministry - have called for more immigration, not many politicians are speaking publicly about it.

Hugh Richardson, head of the European Commission delegation says that Japan and Europe are working to cope with the problem of declining birthrates and an aging population. "While the Japanese business community is taking a positive stance on immigration, in Japanese political circles, opinion remains divided and a comprehensive immigration policy has yet to be developed," said Richardson.


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