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Editorial: Concerns remain as doors about to open wider to foreign workers

  • January 25, 2019
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:15 p.m.
  • English Press

The Judicial Affairs Committees of both houses of the Diet discussed issues related to the revision to the immigration control law to allow more foreigners to work in Japan in meetings held on Jan. 23 and 24 while the Diet is in recess.

 

The committee sessions were convened in response to unusual decisions by the respective chairman to address a wide range of unsettled issues concerning the legislation, which was enacted in December and is scheduled to take effect in April.

 

As the Diet considered and passed the bill, many details of the new system to accept more foreign workers were left to be determined at a later date.

 

But the government failed to offer clear answers to most of the questions raised during the committee sessions, only deepening public anxiety about the radical labor policy shift.

 

When the bill was enacted late last year, the government laid out basic principles for the implementation of the new system along with a package of measures to ensure that foreign workers can live in harmony with Japanese society.

 

The government also announced a draft outline of proposals to introduce new related government and ministerial ordinances, but the period for public comments on the proposals is not over yet.

 

Many key questions remain unanswered. What kind of companies will be allowed to hire foreign workers under the new visa program, for example? What are the skill levels foreign workers will be required to have to qualify for the program?

 

What are the degrees and types of support the “registered support institutions” will be required to provide for foreign workers? It is hardly surprising that a wide range of businesses and other organizations are expressing discontent and frustration about the way the government is dealing with the challenges.

 

It is also unclear what kind of measures the government intends to take to provide sufficient opportunities for foreign workers to acquire necessary Japanese language skills and secure a sufficient number of Japanese language teachers for this purpose.

 

Many local governments are worried about the possibility that they may be forced to do all the heavy lifting. The government’s replies to questions asked at the committee meetings did little to ally their concerns.

 

The government’s appallingly inadequate preparedness for the implementation of the new system underscores the fact that the time frame set for this policy change is unreasonably tight.

 

The logical view about the policy initiative is that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has rushed to establish the new system without a clearly defined policy for foreign workers, and that the system is mainly a means to enable foreign nationals already working in Japan under the existing Technical Intern Training Program to remain in this nation even after the authorized period of stay expires.

 

Some government responses during the committee sessions were particularly worrisome.

 

When asked about concerns that most foreign workers accepted under the new system may seek to work in urban areas where wages are higher, the government said that, under certain circumstances, the association of companies hiring foreign workers will ask its members to voluntarily restrict their employment in large cities.

 

Neither the criteria for making such a request nor the effectiveness of the step is clear, however. Moreover, this is a problem that should be tackled through improvements in wages and other working conditions in the first place.

 

What does the government think about the potential risk of serious human rights violations involved in restricting the migration of workers?

 

While the government and the Diet are mired in confusion over the plan, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, or Doyukai, last month made some notable proposals.

 

The business organization pointed out that debate on the new system has been insufficient and proposed that it should be initially implemented on a trial basis. A comprehensive review of the system based on the results should be made after the trial period is over, the body argued.

 

Specifically, Doyukai called for the establishment of a new cross-ministerial body in charge of handling related issues and a review of the technical intern program for possible abolition. It also proposed allowing foreign workers to stay in Japan with their families and called for expanded policy efforts for education of their children.

 

Both the government and the Diet are responsible for effectively tackling all these and other challenges related to the new system that have not been duly dealt with during the debate on the bill.

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