Japan will clamp down on asylum seekers' rights to work and detain other refugee applicants, the Yomiuri daily reported on Tuesday, in a move that would put further curbs on one of the developed world's tightest refugee systems.
From as early as mid-November, Japan will only allow those it regards as bona fide refugees the right to work, leading to more than 10,000 asylum seekers a year becoming unable to work, the Yomiuri said, without citing sources.
Others, including those deemed as clearly not refugees in initial checks and multiple asylum applicants, will be held in detention centers after their permission to stay in Japan expires, the report said.
At present, asylum seekers with valid visas receive renewable permits allowing them to work in Japan while their refugee applications are reviewed - a system the government says encourages people to seek asylum in order to work.
"We are looking at policies, including this in the (Yomiuri) article. We haven't decided whether to put it into action," said Yasuhiro Hishida, a Justice Ministry official overseeing refugee recognition.
Japan accepted just three refugees in the first half of 2017 despite a record 8,561 fresh asylum applications, and only 28 in 2016. Human Rights Watch in January described the country's record on asylum seekers as "abysmal."
The world's third biggest economy has remained unwelcoming to immigration despite a shrinking, ageing population that has exacerbated the worst labor shortages in four decades and drags on an already slow economic growth.
Japan's reluctance to accept foreign workers and refugees is in contrast to the policies of other industrialized countries, and has forced labor-hungry industries including construction and manufacturing to rely on asylum seekers with work permits.
Immigration remains a controversial subject in Japan, where many pride themselves on cultural and ethnic homogeneity.
Almost six in 10 Japanese think diversity of ethnic groups, religions and races makes their country a worse place, a poll this month by the Pew Research Center showed.