Japan PM says nation should open up to migrants

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 15 2009 12:46 AM | Updated as of Nov 15 2009 08:46 AM

SINGAPORE - Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Saturday that his country, which is battling low birth rates and an ageing population, should make itself more attractive to migrants.

Japan has some of the world's strictest controls on immigration, and Hatoyama admitted that he was broaching a "sensitive issue".

But he said that as well as introducing pro-family policies, Japan should attempt to encourage migrants to live and work there.

"I think Japan should also make itself a country attractive to people so that more and more people, including tourists, hope to visit Japan, hope to live and work in Japan," he said on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit.

"I am not sure if I can call this 'immigration policy', but what's important is to create an environment that is friendly to people all around the world so that they voluntarily live in Japan," he said.

Japan has relatively few resident foreigners, although in recent years it has cautiously opened up its job market to nurses and care workers from some Southeast Asian countries.

"First, we will improve support for child-rearing by offering cash allowances for families with children," before thinking about immigration to address the country's low birth rate, the premier said.

Japan's population has been shrinking since 2005. Despite efforts to raise the birth rate, a woman's average number of offspring now hovers around 1.3, well below the 2.07 needed to maintain the population.

Japan rejected the prospect of mass immigration under the conservative government led by the Liberal Democratic Party. Hatoyama's centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ousted them in September.

Some politicians have argued that an influx of immigrants would lead to lower wages for Japanese workers and a higher crime rate.

Hatoyama's DPJ has not detailed its immigration policy.