Can Bangladesh take advantage of Japan’s new immigration legislation?
Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world, has pushed forward the controversial immigration bill which will allow more foreign workers to come and work in Japan.
It has already been cleared by the cabinet, and will now be placed for final approval in parliament in the current session, so that it can get implemented starting from April 2019.
The new bill can open up as many as half a million new opportunities for foreign workers by 2025. Considering the long-lasting friendship between Japan and Bangladesh, whether Bangladesh can seize this opportunity and secure a new market for its human capital is the pertinent question.
Japan has been facing a dire need of labour, mostly because of the ageing population and drop in the birth rate. Currently, there are more opportunities than job seekers in the market (around 160 opportunities are available for every 100 job seekers). Additionally, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics has increased the demand for labour, particularly in the construction sector. As a result, the economy is going through a labour shortage, exacerbating its already stagnant economic growth.
Exploration of external sources for labour has already started. Twice as many foreign workers (a record number of almost 1.3 million) are currently working in Japan. However, this excludes foreign spouses, international students, foreign skilled workers, and trainees, who work either for a limited time or specific tasks.
The proposed plan seeks to minimize the shortage for priority labour-intensive sectors like agriculture and construction. As of now, China is the leading source of labour, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and Nepal.
And of course, Bangladesh is yet to participate in this race.
The Middle East has been the primary moribund market for Bangladesh. While the government has taken certain steps to stimulate the existing market and explore new potentials, efforts have been less successful for a variety of socio-political and economic reasons.
With the rise of global nationalism, countries are now closing borders, squeezing opportunities for foreign workers. The proposed immigration bill from Japan, a historically closed society, has opened up unforeseen opportunities for countries like Bangladesh, which are already crippled with pervasive unemployment and joblessness.
Japan has been a friend of Bangladesh since its independence. The nation continues to support the socio-economic development of Bangladesh through its Overseas Development Assistance. A significant majority (70%) of Bangladeshis have a positive view of Japan.
Bangladesh backed Japan for the UN Security Council’s non-permanent seat for 2016-2017, and Japan has already sought Bangladesh’s continued support for the 2023-2024 election.
The Bangladeshi foreign minister visited Japan in May 2018 to seek the country’s support for the Rohingya crisis and other issues.
However, the potential human resource-sharing opportunity was not discussed.
Capitalizing on the strong socio-economic, political, and security cooperation between the two countries, the time is ripe to take initiatives to create an overseas employment market for Bangladeshis in Japan.
The Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should act immediately if they want to secure a piece of the pie.
Since China and other Asian countries are already in the race, Bangladesh needs to take advantage of the goodwill and warm relationship to cut a deal with the Japanese government.
With the election coming up, it is difficult to anticipate that immediate action will be taken. Unfortunately, the opportunity may not wait till the election ends, and thus, the process needs to get started immediately.
Makshudul Alom Mokul Mondal is a graduate student at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester. He is also a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum.