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Gallup survey suggests Japan may have tough time attracting many foreign workers

In this July 9, 2018 file photo, foreign visitors line up at immigration control at Narita International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

TOKYO -- Japan's lawmakers voted on Dec. 8 to throw the country's doors open to more foreign workers in certain industries, but those workers may not be so eager to make the trip, results of a survey by pollster Gallup Inc. released on Dec. 10 suggest.

If everyone could move to whatever country they wanted to, Japan's adult population would grow by just 1 percent, according to the U.S.-based firm's most recent Potential Net Migration Index (PNMI), a 2015-2017 survey of more than 450,000 adults in 152 countries. Furthermore, Japan's ranks of highly educated workers -- people with at least four years of post-secondary education or the equivalent of a bachelor's degree -- would shrink by 8 percent.

Meanwhile, the youth population -- those aged 15 to 29 -- would grow by 51 percent. Most of the theoretical new arrivals would come from Southeast Asia.

According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the country's population will fall from about 126.4 million people today to an estimated 110.9 million in 2040. Faced with consequent labor shortages, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe passed revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act through the Diet on Dec. 8 to create two new residency categories so that industries such as nursing, construction and agriculture can accept more foreigners. The government projects between 262,700 and 345,150 foreigners will be accepted under the new categories.

The Gallup study notes that while other developed nations including Canada, the United States and France are also facing aging societies and labor shortages, "the data shows that for now, these countries are much more attractive destinations than Japan."

Canada's adult population would, for example, swell by 147 percent if everyone in the surveyed countries could move to where they wanted, including a 120-percent boost in educated workers and a 343-percent gain in young people. Overall, North America would get a 57-percent adult population hike, while the New Zealand, Australia, Oceania survey area would see a 190-percent rise.

The survey results suggest that, though Japan may want hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to come and help plug the country's labor gap, there is no guarantee those workers will be lining up at the door, especially the highly educated. The government may have its work cut out marketing Japan as a top-choice destination for the internationally mobile.

(By Robert Sakai-Irvine, Staff Writer)

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