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Famous for its resistance to immigration, Japan opens its doors

Number of foreign workers doubles in five years as nation faces labor crisis

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"I've chosen the construction industry because the work involves lots of communication and helps improve my Japanese," Hoang said, in fluent Japanese. He eventually wants to work as a translator in Japan, and hopes that his fiancee will be able to join him there one day.

His employer, Adidas Shoes Sale Crazy 97 Eqt Elevation Retro - Kobe Bryant black/runninwhite/golsld AD 4257,Woman Nike Air Max 97 pink whiteAdidas Shoes Sale Enforcer Mid black/hirere AD 5815,, said trainees like Hoang are indispensable for his company of 32. "Foreign trainees learn faster than Japanese," Maeda said. "They are more serious, more hardworking, and take fewer days off. They are keen to learn and work hard for money. Adidas Shoes Sale Tubular Invader red/vintage white AD 5521,Adidas Originals Suede Busenitz Skate Trainers Men Navy Dark Blue White Sz9 Sz10 Blue [Kv6141]Adidas Shoes Sale Zx Flux Techfit black/core black/supyel AD 3422,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Adidas Shoes Sale Zx Flux green/core black/white AD 3565,Adidas Ultra Boost 2.0 Multi Color Size 12.5 Bb3911 Brand New Deadstock Ds Multi-Color [Bo3345]Adidas Shoes Sale Ts Lite Amr black/metallic gold AD 3485,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Buy Cheap One Endo Polarized Sport Dark Demi Vietnamese trainee Dang Ngoc Hoang works at a building site in Tokyo. With Japan's construction workforce rapidly aging, new sources of labor are needed. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

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Without fanfare, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has steadily loosened Japan's once tightly controlled visa policy, resulting in an almost doubling of the number of foreign workers in Japan to 1.28 million over the last five years. In its latest move, Abe's government is expected to create a new class of  five-year work permits for unskilled workers in hopes of attracting more than 500,000 new overseas workers by 2025. The new guidelines, to be finalized in June, will ease language requirements for foreign workers in construction, New Balance Shoes Sale Ct791Gry grey/alloy NE 5257,Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Zebra Size 9 Us [Bw7184]New Balance Shoes Sale Ml574At grey/navy NE 4566,.

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Yet the total number of foreign residents in Japan has grown 20% in the last three years, reaching 2.6 million in 2017, or 2% of the total population. In Tokyo, one in eight residents who came of age this year were foreigners.

"Anyone wandering around Japan, from Hokkaido to Tokyo to Okinawa, knows that there is growing diversity in schools and the workplace," said Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University Japan. "New Balance Shoes Sale P740Wb - James Worthy Unc white/blue NE 5811,Adidas Streetball D67890 Basketball Shoes Size 7 Us 40 Eur Black/White Black [Cx2888]New Balance Shoes Sale 997 Connoisseur Ski M997Csiy red/navy/silver NE 4316,."

Buy Stansport Double Cotton Hammock w stand Yellow/Blue Foreign workers have become a part of everyday life in Japan, yet public debate on immigration remains limited. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

While foreign workers are now part of everyday life in Japan -- making ready-to-eat foods in convenience stores, growing fruits and vegetables on farms and sorting packages for delivery companies -- public debate has been limited.Nike Shoes Sale Roshe One burgundy/deep garnet/bright crimson/pure platinum NI 5976,2018 Mens Under Armour UA Clearance Curry 4 Low Golfs Black/White Basketball ShoesNike Shoes Sale Air Max 1 Essential light bone/brigade blue-gum medium brown NI 5523,. As a result, Abe's position -- despite its apparent contradictions -- has faced no strong pushback from the public or politicians yet.

Many Japanese look at the deep divisions in the West over immigration and conclude that a more open policy should be avoided. Yet the steady relaxation of migration rules has not led to the social fissures seen elsewhere.

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With Japan facing its tightest labor market in decades, the business community would like Abe to go further. The unemployment rate stands at 2.5%, the lowest level in 25 years. There are now 1.59 jobs for every job seeker, the highest ratio since 1974.

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Given Japan's demographics -- it is the world's oldest advanced economy -- the labor shortage is only going to intensify. The nation's working-age population, defined as those aged between 15 and 64, is expected to decrease more than 40% to 45 million over the next 50 years. By contrast, those aged 75 or older, dubbed the "super-elderly," are projected to make up more than a quarter of the population.

Cabbages and car parts

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Among them is Kota Hirohara, 56, who raises cabbages on his small farm. On a recent May day, two Indonesian trainees were harvesting Hirohara's cabbages by hand with large nakiri, or vegetable knives. Hirohara says his farm is not big enough to need an expensive cabbage harvesting machine.

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The two men, Muhamad Irvan Gustian and Farruq Fahlevi, both 21, can pick as many as 4,000 cabbages during their eight-hour workday. They also weed the fields, Vans Shoes Sale Slip-On 59 Denim black VA 5799,849558-100 Nike Men Air Vapormax Real Flyknit Canada White Christmas Sail Customize Light BoneVans Shoes Sale Sk8-Hi Reissue - Mono black VA 3514,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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The workers at Shigeru make instrument panels used in the Outback, Impreza and other models. The company hires Japanese part-timers in response to changes in demand, but Masayoshi Tabata, general manager, says foreign trainees are more dependable. "Part-timers quit when they find better-paying jobs. Trainees stay for three years."

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Trainees are discouraged from going back to their country before finishing the three-year term or from having a child, and they cannot bring their spouse on the visa.

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International pressure and media reports led to a law change in November 2017, allowing only certified organizations to participate in the trainee program. Criminal penalties were introduced for mistreatment of workers while a new government agency has been given a legal mandate to conduct random inspections. A whistleblower system has also been created that allows cases of abuse to be reported via email, a telephone hotline or a dedicated website. Most trainees have smartphones with them and have Wi-Fi access in their dormitories.

Fast-track system for tech workers

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At Rakuten's Japanese headquarters in a Tokyo suburb, a quarter of its roughly 6,000 employees are foreigners. The company hires about 400 engineers every year, of which 70% are non-Japanese, mainly Indians and Chinese.

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Amit Agrawal, a 35-year-old engineer from India, is one of those who were hired by Rakuten.

"Most Japanese companies don't accept non-Japanese speakers. Rakuten is one of the companies that accept non-Japanese-speaking people," said Agrawal, who works in a massive open room that is almost entirely filled by foreign workers. Nike Mens Shoes / Kyrie Irving Shoes Nike Kyrie 1 RR39I29w1m,Donna Nike Air Max 90 QS Comfortable Diamondback "SHANGHAI" - Must Win Cake Scarpe da Corsa StoreNike Mens Shoes / Midnight Navy Tour Yellow Metallic Silver Shoes Nike Hyper Rev 2015 YG568258e1r,, via a loyalty point system.

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Family ties

But IT workers are an exception. Most others, even skilled workers, face significant hurdles to settling in Japan.

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One of the biggest difficulties has to do with restrictions on allowing family members to accompany workers -- a move designed to prevent permanent immigration. Though they are starting to loosen for a small number of the most skilled workers, such restrictions may limit Japan's allure as a destination for people with sought-after training. 

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Abud was able to come to Japan through this program, but the hurdles were high. Only those with a four-year-college degree and a Philippine qualification as a caregiver were accepted. Puma Mens Shoes / Electric Green Tradewinds Shoes Puma El Seevo D44T58z1e,Grigio/Viola/Bianco Nike Air Max Exclusive 2017 Donna Limited Edition ScarpeReebok Mens Shoes / High Vis Green Black Shoes Reebok Crossfit Lifter Plus 2.0 FU15Fy1a,.  

She sends most of her salary to her parents and sisters back in the Philippines. Her younger sister has a daughter who is going on to private school, and Abud's earnings contribute to her niece's education.

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But she and her husband see possible obstacles ahead for their lives in Japan. Her visa allows her husband to work only up to 28 hours a week, which could pose problems if they start a family.

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