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Editorial: Many challenges to increasing foreign workers under new law / Help needed for social adaptation

  • December 10, 2018
  • , The Japan News , 07:38 p.m.
  • English Press

The system reforms in newly passed legislation are aimed at opening the door wider to foreign workers. There are many issues remaining to be resolved. The government must take necessary measures and strive to smoothly introduce the new system while alleviating the anxiety felt by the public.


The bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law has been enacted. The main pillar of the legislation is to create new types of residence status, thereby permitting foreign nationals to work in areas facing serious labor shortages. The revised law will take effect next April.


The effective ratio of job openings to applicants stands at a high level comparable to that in the days of the bubble economy, which is creating difficulty in securing workers in the agricultural sector and at construction sites. Some nursing-care facilities have no other choice but to turn away the elderly.


Simple labor added


As long as the expansion of employment of females and the elderly fails to make up for the labor shortage, it becomes inevitable to widen the scope of residential status for the purpose of working in this country — previously limited to personnel with advanced expertise, such as researchers — to include areas of simple labor.


Technical intern trainees from overseas and foreign students studying in Japan who also work part-time account for 40 percent of foreign workers here. The reality is that foreign workers are being used as cheap labor under the pretext of international contribution and education.


There is a limit to what can be gained by increasing the number of foreign workers through irregularly devised measures.


The government deserves credit for facilitating a comprehensive mechanism for the employment of foreign workers while becoming involved in that task under its own initiative.


Under the new system, foreign nationals who possess certain Japanese-language proficiency or specific knowledge in their work field will be permitted to stay for up to five years, in the capacity of holders of designated skills called Type 1. Type 2 workers — those with high skills — will be able, in effect, to live in Japan permanently while undergoing periodic reviews.

The government has estimated that the number of Type 1 workers — covering 14 types of industry including nursing-care services and construction work — will total a maximum of about 340,000 over a five-year period. It expects about 45 percent will be those who transfer their status from technical intern trainee.


This means that a system will be prepared under which foreign nationals who have adapted to Japanese society through technical intern training will be able to work here for a long time.

The government will soon set the prospective number of foreign nationals to be accepted in each kind of industry. Increasing the number of foreign workers in a haphazard manner will only invite turmoil. In the case that the labor shortage is resolved, it should be flexibly dealt with through such means as promptly halting the acceptance of foreign workers.


What is important is to improve labor conditions facing foreign workers so they can sufficiently make the most of their abilities.


It is appropriate that the new system mandates that corporations accepting foreign workers ensure their wages and benefits are equal to those of Japanese workers.


Fix technical training


If pay levels of foreign workers are low, it would prevent Japanese workers’ pay from rising and deprive them of employment opportunities.


The government must employ the new system strictly on companies that force foreign workers to put up with low wages and unfair treatment, by, for instance, having such firms suspend their acceptance of foreign workers.


Foreign workers who are admitted into the country under the new statuses can transfer jobs, even if they lose their original positions, as long as they remain within the same field. Unlike the technical intern training system, under which those who lose their jobs have to leave the country, the new system will help workers secure a steady livelihood.


Problems related to the technical intern training system have been revived through questioning in the Diet by the opposition parties. Many technical trainees have been saddled with large debts because of malicious brokers in their home countries.


The government must work out effective measures by cooperating with countries from which these workers come. It is vital to sift through the problems anew and compile corrective measures.


Developing an environment in which foreigners can adjust to life in Japan with relative ease will lead to an alleviation of anxiety among Japanese citizens.


Painstaking support is called for, including Japanese language education and social support services, as well as medical care and housing provisions.


The central and local governments should make clear their respective roles and advance these support efforts efficiently.


“The immigration and residence control agency,” an agency that will be created by upgrading the Immigration Bureau of the Justice Ministry and is tasked with the administration of foreign residents, has a huge responsibility.


The agency will be tasked with control of the entry and departure of foreign nationals, as well as inspecting and supervising companies that have accepted foreign workers. Although the agency’s personnel is set to be increased to about 5,400, it is important for the agency to closely cooperate with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and municipalities.


Prior to the law’s enforcement, the government will propose to the Diet the law’s application policies for each sector accepting foreign workers and the overall picture of comprehensive measures for support. Both the ruling and opposition parties should closely examine the appropriateness of relevant policies and measures multilaterally.


Cope with aging society


The pace of population decline is expected to continue accelerating in the future. Unless steps are taken, the Japanese economy will inevitably contract. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has pointed out that there is a possibility of Japan’s real gross domestic product decreasing by about 25 percent over the next 40 years.


It was disappointing that in the recent series of Diet deliberations, discussions on the issue were low-key and they were no in-depth debates as to the overall picture on the position of foreign workers.


Looking ahead several decades, how should the vitality of this country’s economy and society be sustained? The government must discuss the matter seriously. What counts most is to make clear the chain of command for such tasks and draw up middle- and long-term strategies to cope with the aging society and low birthrate.

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