Nikkei: Japan begins clearing path for foreign workers. Really? Let’s analyze the proposals.

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Hi Blog.  The Economist (London) recently has had a couple of articles on immigration to and even naturalization into Japan (here and here), so it looks like PM Abe’s alleged pushes to liberalize Japan’s NJ labor market (despite these other countering trends herehere, here, herehereherehere, and here) are gaining traction in the overseas media.  Let’s take a representative sample of the narrative being spun by the Japanese media for overseas consumption (in this case the Nikkei, Japan’s WSJ, which recently published an incorrect article about NJ issues and refused to acknowledge its mistake), and see how it holds up to scrutiny.  Original article text in bold italic, my comments interspliced in this regular text:


Japan begins clearing path for foreign workers

Nikkei Asian Review, August 11, 2016, Courtesy of JK

TOKYO — The Japanese government is set to take steps to smooth the way for foreigners to enter and thrive in the domestic labor market, with the reforms targeting hospitalization, taxes and residency requirements.

The economic growth strategy devised by the central government in June highlights the need to aggressively attract foreign talent. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and others are hearing opinions from companies worldwide regarding bringing information technology specialists into Japan.

COMMENT:  This focus on “foreign talent” is basically policy wonk speak for “we’re not importing unskilled labor”.  Even though we are.  And have been doing so through a government-sponsored NJ slave labor program (this is not an exaggeration) for more than a quarter century.  And if we talk about this push for “specialists”, they’ve already tried that with the “Points System” visa regime, and, as we predicted, it failed miserably.  Understandably.  Read on to see why it’s going to fail again.

The trade ministry aims to amend related legislation and tax rules during the regular Diet session in 2017.

English-friendly hospitals

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare seeks to allay concerns among foreigners living in Japan about going to hospitals. Only about 20 hospitals nationwide are equipped to handle emergency cases involving foreigners. The goal is to double that number by March and raise it to 100 before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

COMMENT:  Nice, but up to 100 in four years?  That’s helpful for the tourists coming for the Olympics, but that’s not exactly a huge help for NJ who actually live in Japan, moreover outside of the Kantou conurb (where I anticipate the majority of these hospitals will be situated).  Moreover, 100 hospitals in a country where there are apparently, as of 1990, “8,700 general hospitals, and 1,000 comprehensive hospitals with a total capacity of 1.5 million beds” is minuscule (a little over one percent) and presumably not well spread out.

Given that the problem is not a matter of providing medical treatment in English (if a patient is, for example, unconscious or unresponsive, language is not an issue) but rather hospitals actually ACCEPTING or TREATING NJ patients (a big problem for Japanese patients too), merely ameliorating a language barrier (assuming all NJ speak English, too) is more of a salve than an actual cure of the larger problem.

The government will help cover costs arising from hiring interpreters and offering documents in English. Multilingual versions of questionnaires and hospital signs cost an average of 3 million yen ($29,619), according to estimates, and the government generally will pay half the expense. For medical interpreters and similar services, the state will subsidize a hospital to the tune of roughly 9 million yen.

COMMENT:  Nice, but obviously porkbarrel.

Officials also seek to help foreigners on the tax front. If a foreign worker dies in Japan due to unforeseen circumstances such as an accident, the inheritance tax applies to assets held in all jurisdictions. This discourages foreign talent with sizable assets from taking management positions in Japanese companies. Many are urging reform, and METI intends to coordinate with the Finance Ministry and ruling parties to apply the inheritance tax only to Japanese assets starting in fiscal 2017.

COMMENT:  Yes, that is, if you die and leave Japanese assets valued at more than US $88,000 (and there are ways of getting around this too — gifting it to your kin before you die, for example).  Clearly this is a concession the rich expats hanging around Roppongi Hills have lobbied for.  I doubt that this will affect most NJ residents (and not least the “foreign talent taking management positions in Japanese companies”, wherever they apparently are).

And (microaggression alert:) I love how NJ die of “accidents”, not of old age in Japan.  Because implicitly they are temporary and don’t live in Japan forever, right?  Nice, Nikkei.

Talent search

The government looks to ease residency requirements for guest workers. The Justice Ministry will recognize certified foreign care workers as specialists worthy of the corresponding visa status.

Japan currently admits care workers through economic partnership agreements, but those are limited to countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. The number of guest workers is expected to increase by allowing care givers who learn Japanese or professional skill sets at educational institutions to work in Japan. Necessary legislation is to be enacted during the extraordinary Diet session this fall, with the measures taking effect next fiscal year.

COMMENT:  Yep, they tried that too before.  Until the Indonesians and Filipinas realized they were being exploited by a revolving-door visa system that deliberately set the bar too high for passing, and decided to pass on Japan altogether. So Japan’s policymakers are moving on to the next exploitable societies:  Cambodia and Vietnam.  Which, note, are also not kanji-literate societies; if the GOJ really wanted to get people to pass the nurse literacy test (full of medical kanji), they would get nurses from China or Chinese-diaspora countries.  The fact that they won’t speaks volumes about their true policy intentions.  As does the next paragraph:

The government also seeks quick passage of legislation to add the care worker category to Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program, which provides support to developing nations.

COMMENT:  Meaning they’re going to bring them in too as “Trainee” slaves exempt from Japan’s labor laws.

Researchers and other highly skilled foreign professionals likely will find it easier to obtain permanent resident status. Currently, a foreign national needs to reside in Japan for five years before gaining that status. Government agencies are debating lowering the bar to less than three years, with a decision expected this year at the earliest. South Korea allows those with PhDs in high-tech fields to apply for permanent residency after a one-year stay.

Japan also aims to cut red tape surrounding investment and establishing new enterprises in order to help foreign corporations do business. Surveys examining barriers to foreign businesses and professionals have begun, and they will inform initial reforms to be decided by year’s end at the soonest. (Nikkei)

COMMENT:  These are proposals are still in the embryonic stage.  When that actually happens, that will be news and we’ll talk about it then.  Reporting on it now is still policy trial-ballooning on the Nikkei’s part.

FINAL COMMENT:  There is nothing here that constitutes actual immigration, i.e., bringing in people and making them into Japanese citizens with equal protection guaranteed under the law.  Until that happens, there is no discussion here worthy of headlining this as a “cleared path” for foreign workers.  It’s merely more of the same exploitation of imported laborers in a weakened position by government design.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


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24 comments on “Nikkei: Japan begins clearing path for foreign workers. Really? Let’s analyze the proposals.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    No surprises considering the publication; The Economist.

    IIRC I have twice posted on that they have a financial relationship with the Japanese media, making them a vested interest, and therefore untrustworthy, haven’t I?

    — Not sure I recall. Probably best to resurrect those links, please.

  • I dont feel any long term immi policy will ever take hold, but for real, Ive seen lots of foriegners doing jobs I never seen before. I saw 2 viet guys doing construction and some SE Asians changing the trash at an eki.
    Dont know whats going on, meaning work / study or just a new immi policy but most of what I see is people from SE Asia

  • Look forward to hearing about ALT contracts’ maximum terms being set to 3 years so they can’t apply for permanent residence, not that they’d often pass the comically high bar set for PR as it stands anyways.

  • Welp:

    Found out recently when I tried to hire 2 ALTs to work part-time that they can’t under their Interac visa. We were all surprised. That is one reason why you see a lot more Jamaicans teaching English because The Aussies, Kiwis etc have moved on. Interac put the stop on their “teachers” working for anyone else

  • @Tim (#4) Interac ALTs can request special permission from immigration to work specific part-time jobs. Interac doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.

    We just hired a current Interac employee to teach a couple of classes on Saturday. The paperwork was relatively painless. Might be worth looking into next time this comes up 🙂

  • Interac, like basically every other company, prohibits full-time employees from working part-time. Instructor visas require permission to do outside work but this isn’t difficult and, as far as I know, does not require permission from Interac.

    Interesting tidbit about nurses – until 2009 or so, foreigners who had gone to a Japanese university and passed the nursing exam were only allowed to stay for 3 or 4 years working as a nurse (the visa was non-renewable – if they could get a visa by other means they could stay and, for example, with a spousal visa, could work as a nurse indefinitely).

    — Source please.

  • Hi Inflames (#6)

    That is not true, at least in Miyagi. Interac is fine with their instructors doing part-time work outside of school hours, as this means they can pay them less 🙂

    We employ one of them, and Interac supplied the paperwork (a letter) for them to get permission from the immigration office. The immigration office here asked for a letter from the full-time employer and another one from the part-time company.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ Dr. Debito #1

    My mistake, The Economist was part-owned by Pearson, who also sold the FT to Nikkei Shimbun.

  • Sorry, the maximum length of time was 7 years and then the foreign nurses (not EPA ones but rather people who had studied nursing at a Japanese school and passed the exam).

    A but off-topic, but there are actually groups who find qualified Chinese nurses (eligible to take the Japanese nursing exam, aside from language requirements), bring them to Japan and train them in Japanese so they can pass the exam and work as nurses (haven’t found statistics on their total numbers though).

  • @ Baudrillard, #10

    Myself, I never miss an opportunity to point out Abe’s shortfalls and failings, but I think you are putting words in his mouth on this occasion. Abe simply commented that ‘Brexit’ may lead to an exodus of Japanese firms from the UK in order to retain access to the single market (of the EU member states). This isn’t news, the J-gov made the same claim before the Brexit vote;

    Japan doesn’t even have an ‘immigration policy’ and deserves to be criticized for that, but Abe isn’t talking about the UK and immigration.

  • @ Baudrillard #10,

    I would also add this; in light of Abe and others flapping their mouths at the G20 about ‘anti-free trade popularism’;

    I’d say that Abe is complicit in selling the following lie;
    That since the global financial crisis, blue-collar workers (and others) in developed countries are feeling more insecure about their standard of living and financial security. I put it to you that popularist politicians the world over are exploiting this situation by conflating it with nationalistic issues. Abe is as guilty as Trump or Boris Johnson, Putin, or any of the others on this matter.

    And yet here they are at the G20 meeting BSing the media that ‘popularism’ isn’t their fault, but rather it’s all caused by ‘free trade’.

    They are deliberately conflating these two issues in order to manipulate and control the media, the narrative, and their own people, as well as side-stepping responsibility for failing to take meaningful action to change a dysfunctional global economic system.

    By conflating these two issues, they are effectively stifling dissent by applying inappropriate labels to dissenters. This makes it extremely hard for the common man to perceive the reality of the asymmetrical war waged against him, making him powerless to fight back.

  • @ Jim, this is a veiled threat from the GOJ to the British government, tantamount to economic blackmail. They previously made clear they were opposed to Brexit. But like Obama’s interference (it is fitting his picture is above this article on some sites), this has largely backfired.

    So Abe and co. are saying, you Europeans bear the brunt of refugees and immigration, and pay the price of free borders, and We Japanese get trade advantages in the EU through the backdoor without the disadvantages.

    E.g. this priceless irony, Nissan being “European Car of the Year”

    Meanwhile in Japan, We dont have open borders or accept more refugees because “Japan is different culturally”.

    It also makes the British feel the Japanese were never really our friends, our fellow “western oriented” power in Asia; merely just in it for themselves, for the money and taking advantage of sweetheart trade agreements with naive western countries who thought the postwar G7 Japan would reciprocate. As they did in the 80s vis a vis America while they own markets remain closed and liberal legislation, even if agreed to, was not implemented at home.

    If Japan wants a sensible new trade deal with the UK, (to echo Farage), please join the queue, although I note South Korea has got there before you.

  • @ Baudrillard #13,

    With respect, I disagree with you, and I think that you are doing precisely that which I warned against; conflating two issues.

    Abe and Obama were merely acting in the best interests of their nations respective industries, as their electorates demand that they should. It’s not ‘threats’, it’s economic reality. ‘Friends’? Really? Who really believes that nation-states can be friends? Nations are far too complex to seriously discuss as if they were individual people; it’s a linguistic and mental short hand that lacks the sophistication to permit proper understanding of the dynamics of international relations.

    It’s ‘backfired’, has it? As I understand it, the UK is still in the EU and hasn’t actually applied to start the legal process of leaving, so it’s still years too early for ‘Brexiteers’ to be patting themselves on the back. Japanese industry has every right to leave the UK and take their jobs with them, whenever they want.

    Refugees? Why should Japan accept refugees fleeing from nations torn apart by US and EU policies?

    I’m honestly surprised by the nationalism you seem to display on this issue. I had thought from your comments over the years that you were far too grounded to be swept along by ‘patriotic emotion’ shall we say?

    One last point, having loosely followed the Brexit issue, I’m always surprised how Brexiteers are adamant that they weren’t anti-immigration racists, and that they were being unfairly labelled as such, and yet, here you are (for instance) talking about how the UK/EU has to ‘bear the brunt of refugees and immigration’, which seems quite pejorative to me.

    Brexiteers and Abe are birds of a feather to me, and I say this because I believe that anti-EU feelings in the UK are coming out of a generation too young to have lived through the end of the British Empire, and therefore are looking back on their imagined imperial past with rose-tinted spectacles, and not a small amount of feeling cheated out of their ‘entitlement’, which is exactly how Abe and Nippon Kaigi view post-war Japan..

  • Sorry, Jim, agree to disagree. You don’t get the varied reasons for Brexit which are as much a popular revolt against our self proclaimed Tory toffee-nosed blueblood aristocratic masters (Cameron) and the champagne socialist opposition who combined are The Establishment.

    It is not just nationalism or patriotism. This “warning” from the GOJ is so rich with irony, an attempt to put pressure to somehow ignore the popular vote and ditch Brexit for (Japanese) business interests.

    J Surgeon, heal thyself.

    Why cant they make like S. Korea and get with the program? Apply for a new trade deal rather than (as usual) whinge like a spoilt, J popstar in a Parisian restaurant about not getting their special “place at the table”.

    Au Contraire, Abe and Cameron and Hatoyama are all from aristocratic, political dynasties arguably only interested in enriching themselves and their own class (Abenomics). Abe and the LDP love the EU.

    “anti-EU feelings in the UK are coming out of a generation too young “- NO. less than a third of the young bothered to vote, and they demonstrated a pro EU orientation.

    Your assumptions about my commitment to a rigid dogma disappoint me. My mind is not for rent to any one particular orientation, thus you are way off with “I had thought from your comments over the years that you were far too grounded to be swept along by ‘patriotic emotion’ shall we say?”

    “Brexiteers are adamant that they weren’t anti-immigration racists”. You sound like Tony Blair. “Anyone against free-flowing immigration was assumed to be a racist Tory”

    One can be anti EU immigration, without being racist. How is preferring a native English speaking Maori from New Zealand over a white Polish bus driver who lacks the linguistic skills to exchange insurance information, “racist”? Why does a Bulgarian get to take the job of a British National Overseas passport holder from Hong Kong? Why must a British citizen earn a minimum of 18,600 pounds to live with their non EU (or Commonwealth) wife (yes, that includes Japanese spouses!) and yet a Rumanian doesn’t have to?

    Jim, please dont generalize the issue into racist (opposed to EU) to non racist (love the (white) EU).

    Brexit arguably sprang from two or three key events, 1. The Maastricht rebels, who opposed the transformation of the EC into the EU, and 2. The East European enlargement of the EU which has arguably antagonized Russia and led the EU to become the unwieldy, clumsy monster it is today.
    and 3. The Euro.

    My main point is Japan accepts far too few refugees (fact), Europe and Germany accept far too many, with the unfortunate rapes, assaults and attacks that are happening weekly, for various reasons I will not digress into here.

    Which then gives Japanese xenophobes another excuse to not accept any refugees at all, to not make the changes to immigration policy Japan so desperately needs, and to deny NJs voting rights, etc.
    Tarring us all with the same brush.

  • @Jim, briefly. I agree with this:they are effectively stifling dissent by applying inappropriate labels to dissenters. This makes it extremely hard for the common man to perceive the reality of the asymmetrical war waged against him, making him powerless to fight back.”

    Thus, a Brexit dissenter is labelled as “racist”. While its true Boris rode that popular wave for a while, Brexit has no one clear leader. Farage has also stepped down.

    — We are getting off track…

  • #14 JDG and #15 Baudrillard

    “…Your assumptions about my commitment to a rigid dogma disappoint me. My mind is not for rent to any one particular orientation, thus you are way off with “I had thought from your comments over the years that you were far too grounded to be swept along by ‘patriotic emotion’ shall we say?”…”

    Well, all I can say is that it is funny when the shoe is on the other foot. Having being painted as such by you both in the past, where you were both way way wide of the mark of my own comments, because it didn’t sit with your own perceived conjecture of my comments, rather than what they actually were.

    2 + 2 does not = 5 or 7.
    Debate on the issues and facts presented and not conjecture and a perceived subjective narrative that has been constructed merely to provide a riposte. If in doubt, ask!…otherwise you end up debating past each other and coming off like all the ‘others’ and not actually comprehending what is being addresses/stated.

    — I’ve asked for things to get back on track. Please do so or I’ll have to break this up and close down this particular thread.

  • I just think its a bit rich to say Abe the elitist has much in common with the rebel Brexiteers (17 million people), and
    to bring it back on track, Farage’s championing of an Australian points system for immigrants, compared to Abe’s lack of a policy or the bar set way too high or aiming at the wrong demographic with Japan’s recent half baked points system experiment.

    Abe’s rose tinted nostalgia for a (fascist, genocidal, short lived) “empire” (more like a murderous rampage where random assaults, rapes and killings were common and with impunity) before he was born also hardly deserves to be compared with e.g. the far more recent peaceful handing over of Hong Kong after Governor Patten’s democratic reforms, but I digress.

  • @ Baudrillard, #18

    The Japanese Empire was modeled on the British Empire, not the French Empire, the Spanish Empire, or the Russian Empire.

  • @ Jim, that is quite contentious. The empire of Japan was indeed influenced by the British, e.g. Thomas Blake Glover was a British merchant in Bakumatsu and received Japan’s second highest order from Emperor Meiji in recognition of his contributions to Japan’s industrialization, but with more a German style political/legal system than a British one.

    Are you trying to liken Japanese Imperial war atrocities in the 20th century with British ones. But did you know that Japanese occupying soldiers would routinely slap local Asians in Hong Kong in the face just to show their superiority? Ditto rape with impunity.

    So much for “Asian co Prosperity”.

    I could similarly argue (contentiously) Japanese atrocities in China rose once the Anglo-Japanese treaty expired. A strain on the alliance ” was the Twenty-One Demands which Japan made of China in 1915.This unequal treaty would have given Japan varying degrees of control over all of China, and would have prohibited European powers from extending their Chinese operations any further. ” Gowen, Robert (1971). “Great Britain and the Twenty-One Demands of 1915: Cooperation versus Effacement”. The Journal of Modern History. University of Chicago. 43 (1): 76–106. ISSN 0022-2801.

  • @ Baudrillard, #20,

    Nothing contentious, just pointing out that Nippon Kaigi members obsessing over Japan’s former imperial glory, and unable to deal with present realities and make a meaningful vision for the future due to being totally crushed by the weight of the shadow of perceived former might and glory that they feel cheated out of, is not a uniquely ‘Japanese’ trait.

    Even in self-entitled, delusional memory fantasy, there is nothing ‘uniquely Japanese’ happening; it’s a common response to loss of international prestige by those who value themselves as individuals based on misconceptions about how others view them as a member of their nation, thereby inextricably linking ideas about ‘self’ and ‘nation’ in the measuring of self-worth.

    The UK still hasn’t come to terms with the fact that it’s no longer a global super-power, hence all the anti-EU rhetoric about ‘sovereignty’ recently.

  • @ Jim, Britain still has The Commonwealth, which is has been neglecting since it joined the EU. E.g. There was much bitterness with New Zealand at the time.

    Japan has no such commonwealth, and no linguistic ties with other countries. And there lies a key difference.

    Well, they could have had it- Chinese and Korean have many linguistic and cultural similarities, but it is a tragedy for Japan that The Elite chose to go down their “culturally unique (i.e. superior)” Nihonjinron delusional route instead.

    It has been a very lonely road. (cue Team America song, “I m so Ronery” but I digress into satire).

  • Jim, one other reason why I think comparisons between Japan and the UK aren’t meaningful: The UK itself is a union of 4 (or more nations)- the passport being written in Welsh, Gaelic and English- with a history of foreign invasions and assimilation which few of my Japanese students are able to get their heads around-even the more international of them cling to a sub conscious idea of Japanese homogeneity.

    I tried to liken it to Okinawa and the Okinawans (upon which a few students scoffed at the thought of there even being such a word in English, even though it is a recognized nationality on USA census taken pre 1972), but all I got was moronic nationalistic replies of

    “Okinawa IS Japan”.

    Really? Tell it to Shoei Kina and other independence advocates.

    Yet another reason why Japan is not mature enough to accept foreign workers, let alone e.g. Russian Caucasian minorities in the Kuriles should those islands ever be returned. Ditto the Caucasian experience in the Ogasawara Islands ( Trumbull, Robert. “Bonin Islanders Seek U.S. Tie But Remain International Pawns; Descendants of Americans Ask Citizenship in Vain–Fight Return of Japanese,” New York Times. March 11, 1956.)

  • Baudrillard says:

    Silly Asia Nikkei has awful journalistic standards, very simplistic black-white view of the world, so Debito is correct querying this one.

    I found several blatant historical errors and just silly stuff in this recent article,by TETSURO KOSAKA, Nikkei senior staff writer, but with no comments section could not call them out on their site.

    A very Japan centric article, but silly about world history- e.g. Turkey under Erdogan’s “apparent defection” (weasel words) to Russian side recently, and Finland”a “armed neutrality against USSR” (really? A Japanese should know that Finland’s army was limited by treaty like the SDF, and was an associate member of Comecon).

    It read like an undergraduate essay, one in which the teacher would grade B- and then correct the errors.

    I fear for the future of The Financial Times….

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