OTA, Japan — Japanese cities with large foreign populations on Tuesday voiced worries over the government’s plan to accept more foreign workers under a new visa system, saying insufficient consideration has been given to its impact.
Chiefs and representatives of 15 municipalities with especially high concentrations of residents from South America and elsewhere gathered in the city of Ota in Gunma Prefecture for their annual meeting to discuss with Japanese government and immigration officials how they can improve their relations with foreigners.
The Council of Municipalities with Large Migrant Populations compiled a statement stating Japan as a society must work on a variety of issues that may accompany the expected influx of foreigners.
“Accepting foreigners and realizing social coexistence, which have been considered challenges for certain local communities, will need to be discussed, shared and dealt with as issues for Japanese society as a whole from now on,” the statement said.
The statement also referred to their concerns that more foreigners will be accepted into the country “without sufficient consideration of various issues that emerge in local societies.”
During the gathering, members urged the central government to offer more assistance.
The new visa system will start in April in an effort to attract more foreign workers for Japan’s labor-hungry sectors. It will cover 14 sectors, including construction, farming and nursing care, all of which are identified as suffering from labor shortages amid the country’s aging population and falling birthrate.
“We’d like to ask the state for financial assistance,” said Toshiaki Murayama, mayor of the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.
Foreign nationals make up about 18 percent of the town’s population and the mayor said it is important to provide sufficient Japanese language education to help prevent foreigners and their children from falling into poverty.
At the gathering, which was held after Japan revised its immigration law last year, other local government leaders also said there are limits to what they can do by themselves.
“We’d like the central government to legally require firms (receiving foreign workers)…to organize Japanese language education and give them guidance for living in Japan,” Yokkaichi Mayor Tomohiro Mori said.
Hamamatsu Mayor Yasutomo Suzuki said it is necessary to set up a special agency tasked with dealing with all issues involving foreign nationals, and also called for paving the way for them to eventually settle in Japan even after first entering the country with a visa that only permits staying for a limited number of years.
The introduction of the new system represents a major change for the country, which had effectively granted working visas only to people with professional knowledge and high skills, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.
While opening the front door to foreign blue-collar workers is largely welcomed by municipalities, the change has also raised concern among some that think the government’s scheme lacks specific measures to ensure proper working and living conditions for them.
The central government plans to set up about 100 special consultation centers across the country, but the project has drawn criticism from municipalities for leaving most of the decision-making to them.
The number of foreign workers in Japan tripled over a decade to a record-high 1.46 million as of October, marking the 11th straight year of increase since comparable data became available in 2008, when the figure stood at around 486,000, according to the labor ministry.
Under the new visa system, Japan will accept up to around 345,000 over the next five years.
Without taking into consideration the expected influx of workers, a labor ministry panel forecast that the country’s workforce could drop 20 percent by 2040 from 2017.
Other cities that took part in the annual meeting included Ueda, Iida, Toyohashi, Toyota, Komaki, Tsu and Suzuka.