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Editorial: Don’t let foreign workers pay the price for a haphazard immigration policy

  • March 31, 2019
  • , Asahi , p. 8
  • JMH Translation

The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act will come into force tomorrow [April 1]. The act will open wider Japan’s doors to workers from abroad.


The government and the ruling parties railroaded the bill through the extraordinary Diet session last fall. At the time many lawmakers voiced concern about whether the government can make necessary arrangements in time for its effectuation. Such concerns have come true.


For example, one of the concerns is the problem of foreign agencies that recruit foreign workers for dispatch to Japan. In order to eliminate malicious agencies, the government earlier announced that it would conclude agreements with nine foreign countries that are expected to send many workers to Japan under the newly established qualification of “specified skills.” However, the government has concluded agreements with only four countries.


Malicious agencies collect exorbitant deposits and travel fees from workers. Foreign workers already in debt before coming to Japan have no choice but to continue working at their workplaces despite unreasonable treatment by their employers. Such human rights violations have been left unaddressed. It is an urgent task for the government to develop a system for preventing human rights abuses.


Another problem is the uncertainty over the plan to establish one-stop consultation service centers across Japan to offer information and advice to foreign workers on issues such as immigration procedures and living in Japan. The government planned to set up about 100 centers across the country, but only 62 municipalities have applied for grants to run them.


The government said it will continue calling on municipalities to apply for the “one-stop centers.” It should take measures such that the centers cover the entire country.


Receiving foreign workers not as mere laborers but as “human beings” should be the fundamental stance. The results of an investigation recently released by the Ministry of Justice show that is clearly not the case.


The Justice Ministry surveyed a total of 5,218 technical intern trainees who fled their workplaces and were later taken into custody. Of the 5,218, 759, or about 15 percent of the total, apparently faced abuse, received less than the minimum wage, were only paid for part of their overtime work or were forbidden to go out.


This is the ministry’s second release of such a report after opposition parties demanded it be redone because they found errors and deficiencies in the first report released during the extraordinary Diet session. Apparently, the report does not shed light on all problems, but the government takes seriously findings that point to a plethora of problems. 


What astounded us was that even after learning the trainees had run away from their workplaces, the ministry has barely investigated their working environments. This lays bare the obvious fact that the ministry only regarded those foreigners as targets of immigration control.


The Justice Ministry upgraded the Immigration Bureau to the Immigration Services Agency. Its staff will also expand. The ministry must shed its mindset of “control” and, in cooperation with the Labor Standards Inspection Office and relevant municipalities, address issues from the perspective of “protection and coexistence.” Otherwise the number of foreigners who will choose Japan as a place to work will only decrease.


Without reflecting upon its past policies on foreign workers, the government should not let them pay the price for its haphazard immigration policy aimed at taking in more workers from abroad. The administration bears a heavy responsibility.

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