May 30, 2006

Japan panel proposes limits on foreign workers

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan should limit the number of foreign
workers allowed into the country and require those who are let
in to acquire a command of the Japanese language, a Justice
Ministry panel recommended this week.

Japan is debating ways to boost its aging workforce while
taking into account public fears that admitting more foreign
workers could lead to a rise in crime.

The country's population started shrinking last year, and
many are concerned over the effect the demographic change could
have on the economy.

The head of the panel, Vice Justice Minister Taro Kono, has
suggested limiting the proportion of foreigners to 3 percent of
the population, compared with 1.2 percent now, a ministry
spokesman said on Wednesday.

"Some countries accept 5 or 10 percent, but that would be
absolutely impossible for Japan," the spokesman said.

People with specialist skills should be favored over manual
laborers, according to a ministry press release on the report.

The panel also proposed tightening immigration requirements
on foreigners of Japanese descent, who are currently allowed to
work in Japan with relatively few restrictions.

"We should not accept people simply on the basis that they
are of Japanese descent," the document said.

"Those who are already in the country should be required to
have a means of making a living and Japanese language ability
in order to be allowed to remain," it added.

There were around 250,000 foreigners, mostly Brazilians,
living in Japan on similar visas as of the end of 2004.

Concerns over such immigrants grew after the indictment of
a Peruvian for killing a seven-year-old girl last year. The
accused man was reported to have entered the country on the
basis of his Japanese ancestry.