chapter  3
21 Pages

Friend and foe: juxtaposing Japan’s migration discourses


Introduction The numbers of migrants worldwide are on the rise (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2005). International migration, in particular labor-related migration, which amounts to some 90 percent of global migration flows (Awad 2008), is one of the characteristics of an accelerating globalization. Just as cross-border flows of products, investment or ideas are. With an increase from 28.1 million migrants in 1970 to 43.8 million in 2000, the numerical rise in migration flows is particularly pronounced in Asia (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2005). The strong economies of the region, such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea all have come to accept labor migrants. They do, however, apply different migration policy schemes and set different numerical limitations for migration flows. For Singapore, the major labor importing country in Asia, the Ministry of Manpower reports that, in 2007, one-third of the 2.73 million employed persons in the country were foreign workers (Yap 2008). In the same year, Taiwan’s political guideline of not allowing more than 300,000 foreign workers to be employed in the country was eliminated. In 2007, 357,937 foreigners were employed in Taiwan; this amounts to 3.5 percent of the overall Taiwanese workforce (Lee 2008). Within just one year (2005-2006) South Korea saw a 21.8 percent rise in the number of foreign residents. By 2006, the ratio of foreign population to total population stood at 1.88 percent; for the labor force it stood at 1.72 percent (Park 2008). Japan, on the other hand, so far has followed a path of globalization with a remarkable exclusion of cross-border flows of natural persons. Japan’s lack of an open-door migration policy, despite comparatively high economic growth, has long made it an outlier case for students of migration. In 2007, 2.15 million foreign residents were living in Japan. This amounts to 1.69 percent of the overall population of Japan (MOJ 2008). Data by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) show that in June 2006, 222,929 foreign nationals were indicated as working in Japan.1 The share of foreign nationals among Japan’s total workforce amounts to a mere 0.51 percent.2 In South Korea, this share is three times as high as that of Japan, in Taiwan seven times as high and in

Singapore 66 times as high. Despite being one of the strongest economies in Asia, why does Japan not see a larger inflow of foreign workers? Migration theory to a large degree is dominated by economic explanations such as the push-pull model and cost-benefit analysis. These frameworks state that migration flows are most likely to occur when economic differences between the countries of origin and destination are large enough to pose a significant incentive for migration while compensating for the personal costs of migration, such as the loss of personal networks in the country of origin. This approach of neoclassical economics to migration, however, to a large degree neglects the “politics of international migration” (Hollifield 2000: 137). This chapter will explicitly address the political dimension of international labor migration. At its center is the role of politics when it comes to “establishing rules of entry and exit” (Hollifield 2000: 137) for the case of Japan. The chapter is concerned with the political control of migration flows and thereby follows sociologist David Bartram’s line of argumentation “that variation in labor migration results not from ineluctable economic and demographic forces but from political processes that mediate economic and demographic pressures” (Bartram 2005: 11). This political dimension of labor migration to Japan will be studied by providing a discourse analysis focusing on how various political actors in Japan have been framing migration as an issue of national, economic, and/or human security. The focus of analysis will lie with the early 2000s, up to 2007, the year before the global economic downturn following the Lehman Shock lead to a substantial drop in migration flows to Japan. Another numerical drop in Japan’s migrant population, that following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, will also be excluded from this analysis in order to allow to concisely take issue with the political dimension of labor migration to Japan under economically and socially relatively stable conditions. The second section of this chapter will offer a condensed introduction into the 2007 status quo of Japan’s migration policy and the dominant discourses shaping this policy field. It will furthermore specify the research questions this chapter addresses. The third section will clarify the research design by introducing the theoretical framework and the methodologies applied. The fourth and fifth sections provide an in-depth analysis of the two dominant discourses centering on migration policy in Japan, one of which is centered on immigration control, and the other on integration efforts. The final section will summarize the main findings of this chapter and highlight the importance of various notions of “security” for the still ongoing reform debate in Japan’s migration policy.