In the latest attempt to stimulate its dismal, deteriorating demographics, on Friday the Japanese government decided to update immigration rules in hopes of luring world-class talent, including through slashing the wait for high-earning professionals to obtain permanent residency.
Like many Western nations, Japan currently grants visas to highly skilled professionals under a point-based system, accounting for factors like academic history, work experience and research achievements. Those in this category can obtain permanent residency after up to three years instead of the typical 10. But the update, which the government hopes to implement in April, will shorten the period to one year for researchers and engineers who make at least 20 million yen ($149,000) annually – hardly an egregious amount – and have either a graduate degree or at least 10 years of work experience. The reduced time frame also applies to business managers who make at least 40 million yen and have at least five years of experience.
These professionals will be able to bring two foreign domestic workers into Japan instead of the current one. Their spouses will be able to work full time in a wider variety of fields.
According to the Nikkei, there were 3,275 people designated as highly skilled professionals in the January-June half. Just 783 of them were new arrivals.
Additionally, the planned update will also allow elite university graduates from around the world to stay in Japan for two years to look for work. Currently, they have 90 days. The scheme will apply to those who, within the last five years, graduated from a university in at least two of three top-100 rankings created by British and Chinese entities. They will be able to bring their families along as well.
Japan’s move to attract foreigners comes as countries around the world compete for skilled talent able to spur innovation. The U.K. launched in 2022 the two-year High Potential Individual visa, which is awarded to graduates of top-ranked universities. Singapore’s Tech.Pass, launched in 2021, allows technology workers who have been making at least 20,000 Singapore dollars ($15,000) a month to work or start a business in the country.
Still, “factors beyond immigration qualifications, like having lower wages compared with the U.S. and Europe, pose a bigger challenge for Japan,” said lawyer Koji Yamawaki, an expert on Japan’s immigration system. Average pay in the information and telecommunications industry in Japan came to just $40,000 in 2022, according to Tokyo-based human resources company Human Resocia. This amounts to around half of the U.S. average and 70% or so of the German average.
Japan came in 25th out of 35 countries in terms of attractiveness to highly educated workers in a 2019 ranking by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It was rated particularly low in “quality of opportunities” and “family environment.”
There is another problem with Japan’s approach: the majority of applicants for the skilled-professional visa are already in Japan on a different work or student visa. But far more challenging for the Kishida government is that in addition to attracting new talent, Japan will need to find ways to help foreigners in the country advance their careers. And with Japan’s notorious anti-foreign worker/Gai-jin culture, this effort will prove next to impossible.
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