MPG-led MIPEX assessment of Japan
The Migration Policy Group has led a MIPEX assessment of Japan. This page contains the same information as for all other MIPEX countries. The Japanese data is available for 2010 only. The data was collected in September 2010 but also reflects the situation as of 31 May 2010, therefore the data is directly comparable with the 31 MIPEX III countries. The 31 MIPEX III country profiles do not include the Japanese results, nor do the overall policy findings as these were published in March 2011.



The number of immigrants that Japan began admitting since the 1990s is not enough for the country’s shrinking and rapidly ageing population. By 2008, the total number of foreigners numbered 2.21 million (including Korean old settlers). People with Japanese ancestors mostly come from South America and automatically get long-term residence. Other immigrants mostly come from Asia and get temporary permits as workers, trainees, and technical interns. In 2006, the national government called on cities and prefectures to prepare plans on ‘multicultural living-together’ (tabunka kyôsei). In 2009, the first national integration programmes were launched, mainly for those with Japanese ancestry, without jobs, or in immigrant-dense neighbourhoods. 

MIPEX finds that immigrants in Japan generally face slightly unfavourable conditions for long-term societal integration. Japanese laws score 38 on the 100-MIPEX-scale and rank 29th out of 33 nations, alongside Europe’s newest, smallest, and most restrictive countries of immigration. The average European country, Australia, Canada, and the United States all provide stronger support and more coherent opportunities for newcomers to participate in the many areas of society. 

Only labour market mobility policies are slightly favourable in Japan, ranking 14th among the 33 countries. One out of every three foreigners is an unskilled temporary worker such as a technical intern, who is denied the chance to make their career in Japan, live with their families, or settle down permanently. Other foreigners such as skilled temporary workers face relatively discretionary reunion and long-term residence procedures. Foreigners in Japan are further discouraged from becoming citizens (20th) or politically active (23rd).  People with a different ethnicity, nationality, race or religion are largely defenseless against discrimination, which can go unpunished in Japan, one of the last MIPEX countries without a dedicated anti-discrimination law and body (last place at 33rd). 

Timeline - What's Changed

0 October 2008 
Labour market mobility
Employers obligated to support redundant foreign workers
0 April 2009 
Labour market mobility
Voluntary return programme for Japanese-ancestry unemployed and dependents
0 July 2009 
Long-term residence
Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (entering into force in July 2012) extends validity period of permanent residence permit from 5 to 7 years 
0 July 2009 
Long-term residence
Same Act also introduces new system of residence management including issuance of Residence Card with IC chip
0 January 2009 
Following Supreme Court decision, Nationality Act amended granting nationality to acknowledged children born out-of-wedlock to Japanese father and foreign mother
0 April 2009
Labour market mobility, Education
‘Promotion of Support Measures for Foreign Residents in Japan’
0 March 2010
Package of new measures on education of foreign children

Key Findings

  • No anti-discrimination law and body unlike nearly all immigration countries
  • Many temporary migrants such as technical interns denied chance to make career, family life, long-term home in Japan
  • Unlike Japan, most other countries of immigration grant temporary migrants easier and shorter path to permanent residence 
  • Birthright citizenship and dual nationality needed for citizenship to be favourable for integration
  • New national integration measures in employment and education may have limited impact due to limited scope
  • Japanese schools may miss opportunities brought by immigrant children and weakly implement intercultural education
  • Political participation policies weak and uneven across country

Score Changes

Areas of Integration

  • Show Labour Market Mobility

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    Targeted measures 

     As in most new and small countries of immigration, targeted measures in Japan are new, weak, and overlooking many of migrants’ specific problems. Japan lacked specialised social workers and trainings. Since 2008, employers are supposed to assist their redundant foreign workers. People of Japanese Descent benefit from new “Active Employment Measures.” During a three-month course, they receive unemployment benefits while learning language communication, basic labour and social rights, and job application skills. Afterwards they can use interpreters in ‘Hello Work’ offices, one-stop service-centres, advanced training and support from navigators until they find work.

    The current system is slightly favourable for foreigners to find work, but not to invest in a career there or the skills that would meet the country’s long-term needs. As in the average MIPEX country, all foreign workers and entrepreneurs are entitled to equal working conditions, access public employment offices, and join trade unions. However workers who cannot become permanent or long-term residents may be kept exploited, less skilled and less mobile on the labour market. Only the holders of permanent residence and a few other types of visas use social assistance, unlike in half the MIPEX countries. Many temporary workers cannot freely change jobs or sectors in Japan as they can in the leading countries of economic migration and integration. These temporary workers such as technical interns also cannot accept places in vocational training or higher education. Their foreign academic qualifications may be recognised, but most professional qualifications are not. New targeted programmes (see box) are better for Japanese-ancestry long-term residents than for other migrant workers. In comparison, countries with comprehensive integration strategies often give all categories of legal workers better access to both general and targeted support.


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    Slightly insecure families

    Reuniting families in Japan face some of the greatest uncertainty about the outcome of the application and their future in the country. The Immigration Control Bureau has more discretion in the family reunion procedure than in 28 of 33 MIPEX countries. Families can see their application rejected or their status withdrawn on several vague grounds like good character, tax-problems, or speeding. They do not have the right to learn why or appeal (unlike in 30) because of an exemption in applying the Administrative Procedure Act.

    Most immigration countries that facilitate labour market mobility are also facilitating family reunion more than Japan (e.g. Canada, US, Australia, Spain, Sweden). Japan’s family reunion policy is slightly below average for the countries of immigration in MIPEX and below the EU’s minimum standards (2003/86/EC). Slightly favourable conditions and eligibility allow many foreigners to apply for most of their close family. Japan is a little less flexible than most immigration countries on the applicants’ permit requirements (unlike 26 MIPEX countries), sources of income (unlike 26), and options for their parents (unlike 21) or registered partners (unlike 16). The major difference in Japan is that families who want to reunite have fewer and less secure rights and procedures (see box) than they do in any other country in MIPEX, except Ireland, where no policy exists. Some may be forced into dependency on their sponsor because they do not have the same right to work (unlike 23) or to an autonomous residence permit (unlike 29). 

  • Show Education

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    ‘Rainbow Bridge Schools’

    From April 2009 to March 2012, new campaigns, courses, teacher trainings, adapted entrance exams, hub schools and multilingual school promoters may help more migrant students enrol in pre-school and public school, learn basic Japanese, stay in school, and enter to high school. These very basic projects in immigrant-dense areas do not yet entitle all immigrant children to the support they need all throughout their education. Most MIPEX countries do more at all levels, including vocational training and university: from systematic financial support (11) to mandatory school induction (8), academic-level language courses (18), and greater outreach and information for parents (8).

    Japan provides unfavourable support to schools for all immigrant children to achieve their best and for all children to understand and appreciate diversity. All foreign children are allowed – but not required – to attend at least pre-school and compulsory education. They are being gradually encouraged to attend through a few new ‘rainbow bridge schools.’ However the current approach may have a rather limited impact (see box). It also critically ignores the new opportunities that these children could bring to mainstream Japanese schools by diversifying the student body (as in 12 MIPEX countries), offering additional foreign languages (23), introducing other cultures (15), and including immigrant parents (13). Instead, these lessons are relegated to separate private ‘Brazilian schools’ (Burajiru gakkou). Public schools receive little state support to successfully implement an intercultural education throughout the curriculum.

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    New and small immigration countries like Japan have invested little in immigrants as public leaders who can help improve their new country’s policies and societal cohesion. Political participation policies, which are increasingly part of integration strategies in Europe, remain slightly weak and uneven across Japan. Foreigners face few restrictions on their basic political liberties. Since 2002, cities let foreigners participate in local referenda, while half want the national government to grant them full local voting rights, as exist in 20 MIPEX countries. Starting in the 1990s, men and women of different origins have been gradually appointed and led consultative organs with weak institutional powers. These bodies operate in some large prefectures and cities (e.g. Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Kawasaki, Hiroshima), but no longer in Tokyo and not at national level (see 16 MIPEX countries, e.g. Australia, Spain, Portugal). Immigrants that want to organise themselves and participate politically are critically lacking funds for activities beyond culture and education.

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    Long-term residence: a very long wait

    The standard residence requirement for long-term residence in the EU is 5 years or less (Denmark, Norway, Sweden). The requirement is similar in CH and UK in most cases. Traditional immigration countries like Canada or Australia give most migrants a permanent perspective for integration. Selected migrant workers arrive with permanent residence as the starting point of the integration process, while other migrants are entitled to transition to it within a few years.

    Most newcomers in Australia, Canada, the US, and European countries take an easier and shorter path to become permanent residents than in Japan, where the procedures are slightly less coherent with long-term integration. As in most countries, permanent residence in Japan grants foreigners equal treatment with nationals in several key areas and a relatively secure residence. But current laws do not give many temporary migrants this chance at a future in Japan. Trainees can stay one year and then become technical interns for two years, but without any right to permanent residence or family reunion. Foreigners who can apply must generally wait for 10 years, longer than in any other MIPEX country (see box) and even longer than for Japanese citizenship (5 years). They also face a more demanding economic requirement and discretionary procedure than in most countries or under EU law (2003/109/EC), as they did for family reunion.  

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    Citizenship for integration

    If Japan does not open to dual nationality and birthright citizenship, MIPEX concludes that access to Japanese nationality will not be favourable for long-term integration. Over the past decade, a long list of MIPEX countries (e.g. Germany, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Luxembourg, Greece) liberalised nationality law as they recognised themselves as countries of immigration. Dual nationality (now in  19 MIPEX countries) is becoming a global trend in both countries of immigration and emigration. Countries are also finding their own way to somehow entitle children born in the country to citizenship at or after birth (now 16). These reforms’ stated aims are often to prevent long-term democratic and social exclusion and to guarantee equality and recognition among the new generation.

    Japan’s secure but limited concept of citizenship is slightly out-of-touch with the increasing diversity in society. All Japanese citizens enjoy equal protections from losing their citizenship. Becoming a Japanese citizen takes several of the same steps as in established immigration countries like marrying a citizen or speaking a basic level of the language and living there for 5 years. Immigrants do face a few uncommon obstacles like no reasoned decision or appeal ( as in only 7 countries), the same economic requirement from permanent residence (12), a vague and unprofessional language assessment (9), and no free support to pass it (8). Even so, the absence of dual nationality and birthright citizenship (see box) are the two major reasons why MIPEX finds that immigrants in Japan are slightly more discouraged from applying and fully participating in public life in Japan than fellow immigrants are in Australia, Canada, the US, and many EU countries.

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    In 1995, Japan ratified the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Parliament is expecting a bill from government to create a special law and specialised agency. Most European countries made their greatest gains on integration through anti-discrimination, often because of agreed EU standards. Public and private actors cannot discriminate or incite violence or hatred against a person on the grounds of race, ethnicity or religion in all areas of life: employment, vocational training, education, social protection, social assistance, and access to goods and services like housing and health. Victims seeking justice benefit from full protections against victimisation, sharing the burden of proof, financial aid and interpreters. Independent specialised bodies provide legal advice and independent investigations.

    Ranking last of all MIPEX countries, Japan is the only one whose legal system is unfavourable for fighting discrimination in society. Victims seeking justice cannot turn to a dedicated anti-discrimination law (as in only Switzerland out of all 33 countries) or independent specialised body (only Switzerland and Poland). They cannot rely on every judge to correctly interpret general provisions in Japan’s Constitution and international commitments (see box). Very few victims have been able to bring forward their case under the least favourable enforcement mechanisms of any MIPEX country. Despite these cases’ outcomes, Courts ruled that current law does not require local governments to prohibit discrimination in any area of life. The government has made almost no binding commitments to promote equality, except for general human rights organs and volunteers for the Justice Ministry.  

In Japan, the data was completed by a national independent expert Atsushi Kondo at Meijo University and double-checked by peer reviewer Yamawaki Keizo at Meiji University and Chikako Kashiwazaki at Keio University. MPG's central research coordinator staff checked all responses to guarantee that they understood the questions correctly and answered them consistently as in other countries. In each country the very few questions raised between expert, peer reviewer, and central research coordinator were resolved together. Additional comments from the experts and desk research can also be downloaded here.