Hi Blog. Three articles that echo much of the sentiment I expressed in my April 7, 2009 Japan Times article on the Nikkei repatriation bribe. First TIME Magazine, then a blurb (that’s all) from the Asahi on how returned Nikkei are faring overseas, and than finally the New York Times with some good quotes from the architect of this policy, the LDP’s Kawasaki Jiro (who amazingly calls US immigration policy “a failure”, and uses it to justify kicking out Japan’s immigrants). Arudou Debito in Sapporo
PS: Here’s a political comic based upon the NY Times photo accompanying the article below. Courtesy of creator RDV:
TIME Magazine, Monday, Apr. 20, 2009
Japan to Immigrants: Thanks, But You Can Go Home Now
By Coco Masters / Tokyo, Courtesy Matt Dioguardi and KG
When union leader Francisco Freitas has something to say, Japan’s Brazilian community listens. The 49-year old director of the Japan Metal and Information Machinery Workers called up the Brazilian Embassy in Tokyo April 14, fuming over a form being passed out at employment offices in Hamamatsu City, southwest of Tokyo. Double-sided and printed on large sheets of paper, the form enables unemployed workers of Japanese descent — and their family members — to secure government money for tickets home. It sounded like a good deal to the Brazilians for whom it was intended. The fine print in Portuguese, however, revealed a catch that soured the deal: it’s a one-way ticket with an agreement not to return.
Japan’s offer to minority communities in need has spawned the ire of those whom it intends to help. It is one thing to be laid off in an economic crisis. It is quite another to be unemployed and to feel unwanted by the country where you’ve settled. That’s how Freitas and other Brazilians feel since the Japanese government started the program to pay $3,000 to each jobless foreigner of Japanese descent (called Nikkei) and $2,000 to each family member to return to their country of origin. The money isn’t the problem, the Brazilians say; it’s the fact that they will not be allowed to return until economic and employment conditions improve — whenever that may be. “When Nikkei go back and can’t return, for us that’s discrimination,” says Freitas, who has lived in Japan with his family for 12 years.
With Japan’s unemployment rate on the rise — it reached a three-year high of 4.4% in February — the government is frantic to find solutions to stanch the flow of job losses and to help the unemployed. The virtual collapse of Japan’s export-driven economy, in which exports have nearly halved compared to the first two months of last year, has forced manufacturers to cut production. Temporary and contract workers at automotive and electronics companies have been hit especially hard. Hamamatsu has 18,000 Brazilian residents, about 5% of the total in Japan, and is home to the nation’s largest Brazilian community. After immigration laws relaxed in 1990, making it easier for foreigners to live and work in Japan, Brazilians have grown to be the country’s third largest minority, after Koreans and Chinese. But as jobs grow scarce and money runs out, some Nikkei ironically now face the same tough decision their Japanese relatives did 100 years ago, when they migrated to Brazil.
Japan can scarcely afford to lose part of its labor force, or close itself off further to foreigners. Japan, with its aging population that is projected to shrink by one-third over the next 50 years, needs all the workers it can get. The U.N. has projected that the nation will need 17 million immigrants by 2050 to maintain a productive economy. But immigration laws remain strict, and foreign-born workers make up only 1.7% of the total population. Brazilians feel particularly hard done by. “The reaction from the Brazilian community is very hot,” says a Brazilian Embassy official. The embassy has asked Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to “ease the conditions” of reentry for Brazilians who accept the money. (Paradoxically, the Japanese government had recently stepped up efforts to help Brazilian residents, with programs such as Japanese-language training and job-counseling.) This particular solution to unemployment, however, is perceived as a misguided gift. “Maybe there were good intentions, but the offer was presented in the worst way possible,” says the Brazilian official. The program applies to Brazilians who have long-term Nikkei visas, but restricts their right — and that of their family members — to reentry until jobs are available in Japan. The terms are vague and will probably stay that way. Tatsushi Nagasawa, a Japanese health ministry official says it’s not possible to know when those who accept the money will be allowed back into Japan, though the conditions for reentry for highly skilled positions might be relaxed.
The Brazilian community plainly needs some help. The Brazilian embassy normally pays for between 10 and 15 repatriations each year, but in the last few months it has already paid for about 40. Since last September, Carlos Zaha has seen many in his Hamamatsu community lose their jobs. In December, he helped start Brasil Fureai, or “Contact Brazil,” an association to help unemployed Brazilian residents find jobs. He’s thankful to the Japanese government for the offer of assisted repatriation, but says the decision will be a rough one for workers. “I don’t think [the government] thought this through well,” Zaha says. “If someone is over 50 years old and is already thinking of returning to Brazil then it might work. But there are many people in their 20s and 30s, and after two or three years they’re going to want to come back to Japan — and they won’t be able to.”
Lenine Freitas, 23, the son of the union leader, lost his job at Asmo, a small motor manufacturer, one month ago, but says he plans to stay in Japan and work. Freitas says that there would be no problem if the Japanese government set a term of, say, three years, after which Brazilians who took the money could return. But after nine years working at Suzuki Motor Corp., he thinks that the government should continue to take responsibility for foreigners in Japan. “They have to help people to continue working in Japan,” he says. “If Brazilians go home, what will they do there?”
And if Nikkei Brazilians, Peruvians and others who have lost their jobs go home, what will Japan do? Last week, Prime Minister Taro Aso unveiled a long-term growth strategy to create millions of jobs and add $1.2 trillion to GDP by 2020. But the discussion of immigration reform is notoriously absent in Japan, and reaching a sensible policy for foreign workers has hardly got under way. Encouraging those foreigners who would actually like to stay in Japan to leave seems a funny place to start.
Returnees to Brazil finding it tough
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
2009/4/17, courtesy of KG
SAO PAULO–Many Brazilians of Japanese ancestry returning here from recession-struck Japan are struggling to find work, according to Grupo Nikkei, an NGO set up to support the job-seekers.
The group said the number of returnees seeking help had more than doubled from 70 a month last year to 150 a month this year.
Some returnees who performed unskilled labor in Japan have found it difficult to return to old jobs that require specific expertise, according to Leda Shimabukuro, 57, who heads the group. Some youths also lack Portuguese literacy skills, Shimabukuro said.(IHT/Asahi: April 17,2009)
ENDS (yes, that’s all the space this merits in the Asahi)
Japan Pays Foreign Workers to Go Home
The government will pay thousands of dollars to fly Mrs. Yamaoka; her husband, who is a Brazilian citizen of Japanese descent; and their family back to Brazil. But in exchange, Mrs. Yamaoka and her husband must agree never to seek to work in Japan again.
“I feel immense stress. I’ve been crying very often,” Mrs. Yamaoka, 38, said after a meeting where local officials detailed the offer in this industrial town in central Japan.
“I tell my husband that we should take the money and go back,” she said, her eyes teary. “We can’t afford to stay here much longer.”
Japan’s offer, extended to hundreds of thousands of blue-collar Latin American immigrants, is part of a new drive to encourage them to leave this recession-racked country. So far, at least 100 workers and their families have agreed to leave, Japanese officials said.
But critics denounce the program as shortsighted, inhumane and a threat to what little progress Japan has made in opening its economy to foreign workers.
“It’s a disgrace. It’s cold-hearted,” said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, an independent research organization.
“And Japan is kicking itself in the foot,” he added. “We might be in a recession now, but it’s clear it doesn’t have a future without workers from overseas.”
The program is limited to the country’s Latin American guest workers, whose Japanese parents and grandparents emigrated to Brazil and neighboring countries a century ago to work on coffee plantations.
In 1990, Japan — facing a growing industrial labor shortage — started issuing thousands of special work visas to descendants of these emigrants. An estimated 366,000 Brazilians and Peruvians now live in Japan.
The guest workers quickly became the largest group of foreign blue-collar workers in an otherwise immigration-averse country, filling the so-called three-K jobs (kitsui, kitanai, kiken — hard, dirty and dangerous).
But the nation’s manufacturing sector has slumped as demand for Japanese goods evaporated, pushing unemployment to a three-year high of 4.4 percent. Japan’s exports plunged 45.6 percent in March from a year earlier, and industrial production is at its lowest level in 25 years.
New data from the Japanese trade ministry suggested manufacturing output could rise in March and April, as manufacturers start to ease production cuts. But the numbers could have more to do with inventories falling so low that they need to be replenished than with any increase in demand.
While Japan waits for that to happen, it has been keen to help foreign workers leave, which could ease pressure on domestic labor markets and the unemployment rolls.
“There won’t be good employment opportunities for a while, so that’s why we’re suggesting that the Nikkei Brazilians go home,” said Jiro Kawasaki, a former health minister and senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“Nikkei” visas are special visas granted because of Japanese ancestry or association.
Mr. Kawasaki led the ruling party task force that devised the repatriation plan, part of a wider emergency strategy to combat rising unemployment.
Under the emergency program, introduced this month, the country’s Brazilian and other Latin American guest workers are offered $3,000 toward air fare, plus $2,000 for each dependent — attractive lump sums for many immigrants here. Workers who leave have been told they can pocket any amount left over.
But those who travel home on Japan’s dime will not be allowed to reapply for a work visa. Stripped of that status, most would find it all but impossible to return. They could come back on three-month tourist visas. Or, if they became doctors or bankers or held certain other positions, and had a company sponsor, they could apply for professional visas.
Spain, with a unemployment rate of 15.5 percent, has adopted a similar program, but immigrants are allowed to reclaim their residency and work visas after three years.
Japan is under pressure to allow returns. Officials have said they will consider such a modification, but have not committed to it.
“Naturally, we don’t want those same people back in Japan after a couple of months,” Mr. Kawasaki said. “Japanese taxpayers would ask, ‘What kind of ridiculous policy is this?’ ”
The plan came as a shock to many, especially after the government introduced a number of measures in recent months to help jobless foreigners, including free Japanese-language courses, vocational training and job counseling. Guest workers are eligible for limited cash unemployment benefits, provided they have paid monthly premiums.
“It’s baffling,” said Angelo Ishi, an associate professor in sociology at Musashi University in Tokyo. “The Japanese government has previously made it clear that they welcome Japanese-Brazilians, but this is an insult to the community.”
It could also hurt Japan in the long run. The aging country faces an impending labor shortage. The population has been falling since 2005, and its working-age population could fall by a third by 2050. Though manufacturers have been laying off workers, sectors like farming and care for the elderly still face shortages.
But Mr. Kawasaki said the economic slump was a good opportunity to overhaul Japan’s immigration policy as a whole.
“We should stop letting unskilled laborers into Japan. We should make sure that even the three-K jobs are paid well, and that they are filled by Japanese,” he said. “I do not think that Japan should ever become a multi-ethnic society.”
He said the United States had been “a failure on the immigration front,” and cited extreme income inequalities between rich Americans and poor immigrants.
At the packed town hall meeting in Hamamatsu, immigrants voiced disbelief that they would be barred from returning. Angry members of the audience converged on officials. Others walked out of the meeting room.
“Are you saying even our children will not be able to come back?” one man shouted.
“That is correct, they will not be able to come back,” a local labor official, Masahiro Watai, answered calmly.
Claudio Nishimori, 30, said he was considering returning to Brazil because his shifts at a electronics parts factory were recently reduced. But he felt anxious about going back to a country he had left so long ago.
“I’ve lived in Japan for 13 years. I’m not sure what job I can find when I return to Brazil,” he said. But his wife has been unemployed since being laid off last year and he can no longer afford to support his family.
Mrs. Yamaoka and her husband, Sergio, who settled here three years ago at the height of the export boom, are undecided. But they have both lost jobs at auto factories. Others have made up their minds to leave. About 1,000 of Hamamatsu’s Brazilian inhabitants left the city before the aid was even announced. The city’s Brazilian elementary school closed last month.
“They put up with us as long as they needed the labor,” said Wellington Shibuya, who came six years ago and lost his job at a stove factory in October. “But now that the economy is bad, they throw us a bit of cash and say goodbye.”
He recently applied for the government repatriation aid and is set to leave in June.
“We worked hard; we tried to fit in. Yet they’re so quick to kick us out,” he said. “I’m happy to leave a country like this.”