International Symposium on Japanese Studies in Global Contexts

Open Japan Closed Japan: Towards Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Mobility

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Japan’s New Immigration: The Gap Between Immigration Policy and the Reality on the Ground Revealed by International Comparison

David Chiavacci, University of Zurich

In recent years, a “gap hypothesis” has been an influential and intensively discussed topic in research on migration policy in advanced industrial economies. This hypothesis identifies a clear gap between the official goals in immigration policy and the real immigration movements as results of these policies. It raises to the question if nation states are still able to control immigration. In this presentation, the case of Japan will be analyzed with international comparisons.

Since the late 1980s, Japan has been considered a new immigration country. The foreign population is still below 2% and, hence, very low in regards to international comparison. However, Japan has significant and continuous immigration flows that are among the largest of the OECD countries and Japan's economy is structurally dependent on foreign workers in several areas of the labor market. Moreover, Japan has a clear gap between the official principles in immigration policy and the actual immigration movements. Although there is a clearly defined positive list of certain, highly-qualified job fields, in which foreign workers are accepted, de facto the majority of foreign workers are employed outside these job fields. According to research on Western immigration countries, external factors to the state like interest groups, the international human rights regime or ultra-nationalistic movements and parties are leaders in the expansion of this gap between official immigration policy and actual immigration movements. However, this presentation will show that Japan's gap is primarily due to ideological and institutional fragmentations of immigration policymaking within the state. In fact, the state is still strong on the outside, but internally weak. It can be concluded that these internal factors should also be studied more carefully in the case of Western immigration countries, as well.

Short Biography

David Chiavacci is Mercator Professor of Social Science on Japan at the University of Zurich since 2010. He earned a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Zurich in 2001 and was a JSPS post doctoral fellow at the University of Tokyo in 2001-2003. He was then appointed as Reader at the University of Zurich in 2003-2005, Reader at the Free University Berlin in 2005-2010, and Stand-in Professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen in 2009. He received habilitation at the Free University Berlin in 2009. His main research areas are economic sociology, knowledge sociology, and political sociology of Japan in international comparison. His current research projects include social inequality in Japan and Japan's immigration policy.