The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (Immigration Control Act), which aims to allow more foreign workers into Japan, came into force on April 1. The Ministry of Justice’s Immigration Bureau was also upgraded and launched as the Immigration Services Agency that day. The new system has gotten underway although many issues and ambiguities remain.
The aim [of the new system] is to alleviate even if only slightly the severe labor shortage that has arisen as Japan’s society continues to gray with the low birthrate. New residence statuses have been set up for unskilled workers, a category of laborers that has not been permitted residence in Japan to date, and the path has been opened essentially for their permanent residence. Contrary to the government explanation, this can be called a lifting of the ban on “immigrants” in effect, and there is great concern.
Going forward, Japan will enter an era where the working-age population decreases dramatically. Sectors accepting foreign workers will likely not remain at the 14 initially identified, but gradually increase in number. Japan’s continued acceptance of cheap labor will delay the reform of its industrial structure.
The revised legislation passed in December last year creates the new residence statuses of “Specified Skills – Type 1” and “Specified Skills – Type 2.” The new statuses are targeted at 14 fields, including restaurants, and up to 345,150 foreign workers will accepted into Japan over a period of five years.
Many problems remain, however. For example, the foreign workers are required to take a skills test and a language test of conversational Japanese. It has been pointed out, however, that the content of Japanese classes differs from teacher to teacher because there are no set qualifications required of Japanese language instructors.
Will it be possible to prevent the workers from concentrating on urban areas? It is hard to imagine that foreigners who come to Japan in search of a high income will select regional areas, where wages are low compared with the city and there is little work. No effective countermeasures have been presented.
As for wages, it is provided that the wages awarded to foreign workers under the new system will be “equivalent to or more than those of Japanese.” How that will be guaranteed, however, is left to the discretion of the company. Confusion is spreading through workplaces.
There are also concerns in terms of social security. In February, the government submitted to the Diet bills to revise the medical insurance system, including the Health Insurance Act. The aim is to prevent foreigners from abusing the medical insurance system.
Residence in Japan has been made a condition in principle for dependent family members to be permitted to use Japan’s health insurance. This provision will go into effect, however, one year [after the new visa system starts]. It has been left unclear how last-minute abuse of the system [prior to the enforcement of the Japan-residence requirement] will be prevented.
Human rights violations, including illegal overtime work, have been found in the Technical Intern Training Program, a program Japan already has in place. Creating an environment where foreigners can work and live with peace of mind will lead to peace of mind for those who take them in as workers. The prowess of the Immigration Services Agency will be tested so that it is not said that Japan prospers off foreign workers’ misery.
Ad hoc responses will result in confusion at workplaces and hamstring productivity improvements. To ensure that Japan does not decline, we must not hesitate to radically review the new system.