Taste the irony: Japan proposes language requirement for foreign long-term visas, yet protests when Britain proposes the same



Hi Blog. Yes, you read that right. The GOJ wants to issue Japanese language tests for long-term NJ visa renewals, yet protests when Great Britain proposes the same. Moral: We Japanese can treat our gaijin any way we like. But don’t you foreign countries dare do the same thing to members of Team Japan. Bloody hypocrites. Debito in Sapporo

Long-term residents may face language test
By KAHO SHIMIZU Staff writer
The Japan Times: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008

The government may require long-term foreign residents to have a certain level of Japanese proficiency, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Tuesday.

The Foreign and Justice ministries will begin discussing the envisioned Japanese-language requirement, Komura said without providing further details, including when the talks will start or who would be subject to the obligation.

“Being able to speak Japanese is important to improve the lives of foreign residents in Japan, while it is also essential for Japanese society,” Komura told reporters.

“I think (the potential requirement) would be beneficial because it would not only prompt long-stay foreign residents to improve their Japanese ability but also promote awareness among people overseas who are willing to come to (and work in) Japan to study Japanese.”

A Foreign Ministry official in charge of the issue stressed that the idea is not exclusionary. “It is not about placing new restrictions by imposing a language-ability requirement,” the official said on customary condition of anonymity.

Someone with high Japanese proficiency may be given favorable treatment in return, including easing of other existing visa requirements, he said. “(High Japanese proficiency) may actually make it easier to come and work in Japan,” he said. “We want to provide incentives for foreigners to learn Japanese.”

A Justice Ministry official said the discussions are neither intended to expand nor restrict the flow of foreign workers to Japan.

He also said the requirement should not be uniformly applied.

“We don’t want to prevent talented foreign workers from immigrating,” he said.

Some media speculated that the move is intended to expand the acceptance of unskilled foreign workers, given Japan’s shrinking population and expected long-term labor shortage.

But the Foreign Ministry official said the government’s stance — which is to issue work visas for foreigners applying for specific jobs that require particular qualifications while restricting foreigners seeking manual labor — remains unchanged.

According to the Foreign Ministry official, the two ministries hope to reach a conclusion on the matter within a year.

The idea of a language requirement emerged as part of the government debate on the conditions of a large number of foreign nationals of Japanese descent in such areas as Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, which has a large population of Brazilians of Japanese descent.

Many such residents, who are often engaged in manual labor because they obtained ancestry visa permits that allow them to do so, are not covered by the social security system and their children are not enrolled in schools.

The Japan Times: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008

The MOFA offers more details on this in a February 12, 2008 Press Conference here:

But put the shoe on the other foot and see how the MOFA reacts…

Japanese community concerned about Britain’s plans for English tests
Japan Today.com/Kyodo News Friday, March 21, 2008 at 04:43 EST
Courtesy of Mark Mino-Thompson and Paul Hackshaw

LONDON — The Japanese community in Britain is hoping the government will rethink plans for a new English language requirement for foreign nationals coming to work in the country.

The Japanese Embassy in London has expressed “serious concern” at initial government plans to ensure that all skilled workers from outside the European Union seeking work visas have an “acceptable” level of English language proficiency.

It was felt that the level suggested was too high for the many Japanese who come to Britain on “intra-corporate transfers” (ICTs) for periods of around three years.

The Japanese Embassy in London, along with other foreign governments, has been lobbying hard to ensure that ICTs are exempted from the English language requirement or that the level of English required is reduced.

An embassy spokesman told Kyodo News that the initial level of English proficiency suggested by the government would have been a “hindrance” to Japanese firms dispatching staff on regular transfers. But the spokesman said he now feels the government was listening to the concerns of the Japanese and is awaiting a statement from the government in the next few weeks.

The Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Britain said it believes that, if implemented in its present form for ICTs, the plan would have a “profoundly negative impact” on Japanese firms here, and could lead to some relocating to other parts of the European Union.

However, there are indications the government may be about to water down its plan following pressure from foreign governments.

The government says no final decision has been taken on the English language requirement for ICTs but a statement will be made shortly. Informed sources have told Kyodo News that the Home Office is likely to lower the level of the English requirement for ICTs.

The English requirement is due to be introduced toward the year-end.

It is part of a general tightening up of Britain’s visa regime in an effort to make it fairer and more objective. The requirement is designed to ensure that foreign nationals can properly integrate into the country and are best equipped for working here.

Patrick Macartney, spokesman for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the majority of Japanese expatriates are working in Britain for a limited period of between three and five years and should therefore be treated differently from immigrants who are seeking to work and stay indefinitely.

He said, “If the English proficiency requirement were to be compulsory, even for people who stay for such limited periods in this country, this would create a huge problem for the personnel rotation policy of many Japanese companies.

“This is especially true in cases where companies need to send their technical or engineering experts, for whom the priority is their skills and/or knowledge and not language.

“The impact would be most severely felt by the manufacturing industry. Japanese companies who have factories in the United Kingdom might be forced to scale down or even relocate their operations because they could not secure the necessary number of technical people from Japan whose knowledge or experience was crucial to their operations.”

Danny Sriskandarajah, from the left-leaning think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research, said, “It (the English test) is going to be an issue. I don’t actually know the level required, but if it is to be meaningful it has to be reasonably high. It will pose a challenge for people.

“A significant proportion of the work permits are intra-corporate transfers. If you assume that some of those are coming from non-English speaking countries that do jobs which might not require English, they may be affected.”

Liam Byrne, the minister in charge of visa rules, acknowledged Japanese concerns at a recent parliamentary committee when he said, “If you talk to many Japanese investors, they will say that people coming over under intra-corporate transfers from a Japanese company, skilled engineers contributing quite considerably to the strength of the U.K. manufacturing base, are quite nervous about the kinds of English requirements that we would insist on.

“You cannot look at migration policy purely in terms of the economics. I think you do have to look in terms of the wider impact that migration has on Britain and that is why the prime minister has been right to stress the ability to speak English,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Home Office said, “We will publish a statement of intent shortly setting out the detailed policy in this area. We are fully aware of the concerns expressed by Japanese businesses operating in the United Kingdom over the proposed English requirements, especially in relation to ICTs.”

In order to simplify immigration procedures, Britain has recently introduced a points-based system, similar to that in Australia. Basically, applicants are given more points the higher the level of skills they possess.

Entrepreneurs and scientists are classed as tier one and are very likely to get a visa. Skilled workers with an offer of a job in occupations such as nurses, teachers and engineers are classed as tier two and must also have met the English language requirement. This tier also includes those on intra-corporate transfers.

Under Home Office plans, tier two applicants should have reached level B2 in English according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

This would require applicants to “understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics.” And they should be able to “interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.”

10 comments on “Taste the irony: Japan proposes language requirement for foreign long-term visas, yet protests when Britain proposes the same

  • well, it IS a shame to see foreign friends who have been living in Japan for over 15 years still point to the menu pictures when ordering in a restaurant, being unable to read even the Katakana in a useful short time.

    –I agree. Everyone has the obligation to try to learn the language, and I think everyone should ultimately learn how to read, write, and speak the language of the society they live and work in. However, who is going to be tested, and how the tests will be administered, is unclear at this time, and that should be made clearer at the time of proposal. Otherwise you just throw the foreign community into a panic. It’s also a pity many foreign governments in Japan aren’t as visibly raising the same concerns as the GOJ in Britain… Debito

  • “I’mfinethankyouandyou?” after years of “studying” English!

    I watched an interview done by NHK World (online) recently, with the Director of FISA in Vienna (which does academic testing of students worldwide), and she (the interviewer) pleaded with him to tell her why Japan’s students scored so low. The reply was simple. “Endless accumulation of disjointed and disparate facts and figures, and no real skills with which to analyze, prioritize or effectively use what has been received. No critical thinking at all”

    In other words, garbage in, and garbage out.

    So it’s not surprising that they’re balking at the UK’s proposals, as these kinds of tests really show to the world the kind of institutionalized incompetence that passes for education across Japan.

    I pulled from the Yomiuri’s site about the new lay judge system they’re planning on instituting next year. This looks like it has all the hallmarks of Mombusho’s stellar efficiency and depth of planning. It appears that it too is going to be a fiasco, with things being done at the fiat of the presiding judge, who can, on a case-by-case basis, accept or reject the “lay judge’s” reasons for declining to serve.
    The link here: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20080406TDY01305.htm

    Run for the hills. folks! Things are gonna get a lot worse!

    Keeping up the good fight: http://no.tokyo2016.googlepages.com/home

    –Debito here. Not sure how the Lay Judges article relates to the issue of language testing… Make that a bit clearer?


    Citizen-judge refusal reasons set
    The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 6, 2008)

    Ahead of next year’s introduction of the lay judge system, the Supreme Court has drawn up guidelines specifying acceptable reasons for people to reject serving as a citizen judge, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Saturday.

    The guidelines have been created to reduce people’s psychological and physical burdens by allowing people to refuse to serve as a citizen judge at early stages of the judge selection process, when screening takes place based on documents submitted by candidates before they are interviewed.

    The guidelines are meant to provide professional judges involved in the selection process with detailed information and circumstances pertaining to each profession–such as beauticians who are extremely busy before Coming-of-Age Day to help new adults wear kimono–to make it easier to decide whether to accept reasons given by people who want to avoid becoming a citizen judge.

    To draw up the guidelines, the Supreme Court interviewed about 800 people nationwide in 127 categories chosen by the top court to learn each profession’s needs. They included manufacturers of local specialties, such as a sake brewer in Akita Prefecture and a traditional Nishijin-style brocade manufacturer in Kyoto, in addition to ordinary businesses such as a travel agent and a dry cleaner. Those interviewed also contained a late-night worker, a housewife and students of a university and other schools.

    Based on the interviews, the guidelines encourage the professional judges to take two items into consideration when deciding whether accept the reasons mentioned by a citizen judge candidate who wants to opt out of his or her duty: Whether it would be impossible for him or her to be replaced in his or her job during citizen judge service; and whether the candidate’s absence would cause serious disruption to his or her business and personal lives.

    According to the guidelines, examples in which citizen judge candidates are likely to be given consideration to be exempted from duty by the professional judges include: a sport equipment manufacturer fulfilling an urgent order from a professional athlete; a doctor during flu season; a firm’s accounting manager near the end of an accounting term; and a manager of a convenience store near a beach during summer.

    The guidelines also specifically describe acceptable reasons within each profession that are to be taken into consideration to avoid causing financial damage to the candidate. For example, an oyster farmer cannot miss the June breeding season as the following year’s production will be wiped out, and if a wedding planner is found to be unable to attend his or her customer’s wedding, the planner might lose the customer’s trust, and the contract might be canceled.

    It is up to each professional judge to decide whether he or she will accept the reasons mentioned in the guidelines, which are to be distributed to district courts nationwide.

    The Supreme Court plans to conduct further research and construct a database of acceptable reasons for skipping legal duty.

  • Hmmm…it seems like these are two separate issues, actually, unless something is lost in the translation. The Japanese gov’t is proposing language standards for long-term residents (which I assume means permanent residents) while the UK is proposing language standards for all work visas. If that’s the case, the UK’s plan is a lot more severe. Then again, without some understanding of the intended standards by which language ability will be measured, I suppose we really have no idea which side is asking too much of potential immigrants.

    –I would agree something is lost in translation, but according to the MOFA press conference I provided a link to above:

    Q: When you say [the Japanese language test] would not concern bankers or automotive company CEOs, then what kind of jobs or what kind of population are you talking about?

    Mr. Taniguchi: Well, even in terms of professionals or people with some kind of expertise – suppose, under the current framework, you have got to prove you have in the past 10 years’ worth of work experience as a consultant, let’s imagine. Then, the idea is not to de-incentivize those people from coming to Japan, but incentivize those people to come to Japan. Therefore, probably, the entry barrier is going to be lowered from 10 years to five years depending on the linguistic skill you have. So that applies to the professionals, people with expertise. For those in other categories, people engaged in rather more simplistic kinds of work, it will affect the easiness for them to enter Japan if the applicant can prove that he or she is capable in the Japanese language.

    So the program is apparently not for all work visas. Just for “people engaged in rather more simplistic kinds of work”, whatever that means. It’s to make it easier for all those millions of graduates of Japanese-language institutes currently being hindered from entering Japan, I guess (end sarcasm). Yet according to other sources, it means securing “quality Nikkei”, despite the claims of the MOFA above…

    The ‘Nikkei-jin’ factor

    The deputy director of the Foreign Nationals Affairs Division in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Terasawa Genichi, told Radio Australia that ‘Nikkei-jin’ – returning Japanese emigrants and their descendants living outside of Japan – are indeed a focus in the proposed language test.

    Declining an interview, Mr Terasawa did, however, stipulate that the test was not targetting any particular ethnic group.
    (Radio ABC Australia, 18/01/2008, http://www.debito.org/index.php/?p=934)

    So in both countries’ case, the official claim is that it won’t affect the rich, desirable foreigners, but it will affect anyone who wants to stay “long-term” (whatever that means).

    My point is the Japanese government has no leg to stand on when complaining to the British Government, for starters. Debito

  • no.tokyo2016 says:

    Sorry about the seemingly unconnected tangent. I was attempting to pull a few strings of current news together to agree with your theme of “Taste the Irony”. (Very late at night my time!)

    Plodding along with the theme that the UK’s looming tests would cause some shock to the Japanese expats, and the Japanese Govt.’s instinctive, and unfounded complaint to the Home Office in London, I heartily agree with your sentiments.

    In light of the recent US military (and US military family) arrests and high profile cases currently in the news in Japan, and drawing on the news feed on our friend Miyura in Saipan, the treatment of the accused in each of these cases, tried under different jurisdictions, stands out equally as ironic as the complaints about the language testing. The folks in Japan are calling for heads on pikes, while the folks in the US are following a system which has very clear checks and balances along the way. The treatment of Miura is seen as abhorrent by the news media in Japan, whereas they see the processing US military, still “alleged” as being far too lenient.

    To complicate, and obfuscate the judicial system in Japan, as opposed to the global trend towards clarity and procedural, this lay judge system will be introduced. Somewhere in my very tired mind, the irony of Japan’s misplaced reinvention of the simplicity of the wheel made sense. Especially as it further distances the country from other G8 countries’ trends and enlightenments on issues of fairness and human rights.
    Sorry it got lost in the translation!

  • This is interesting, and really isn’t all that different from Australian policy.
    If you have money, you can stay all you like. Under the previous Howard regime, we also had the introduction of the Citizen Test.
    Now this isn’t all that bad, but it includes various information that not even an Australian would know.
    Questions such as ‘how many wickets did Donald Bradman score in his lifetime?
    Now unless you know cricket rules, then this would be very difficult.

    Now there is a pre-requisite like most countries for University, generally you need a score of 6 in the IELTS test, however I have met many Chinese at Melbourne University who can;t speak a word of English to save themselves.

    Citizenship Test is the new Aussie cringe
    ABC NEWS (Sep 28, 2007)

    The new citizenship test, to start next Monday, is a national embarrassment. Fitness for Australian citizenship will be based on the ability of would-be citizens to memorise a short but selective history of Australia and with it some pretty obscure facts.

    It means that people who might be hard working, good hearted and committed to this country could be denied the right to vote because they did not know that the golden wattle is our national floral emblem. Or that King George V granted Australia its Coat of Arms in 1912. Or that South Australia has 13 wine regions.

    These are the kinds of questions that could be in the pool of 200 questions drawn from the 46-page Becoming an Australian Citizen booklet. Get eight of the 20 questions wrong and you fail.

    An additional requirement is that you must pass all three questions on citizenship. According to the Government, one such question could be: “Which one of these is a responsibility of every Australian citizen?”

    There are three possible answers: 1) renounce their citizenship of any other country; 2) serve in Australian Diplomatic Missions overseas; and 3) join with Australians to defend Australia and its way of life, should the need arise.

    This one stumped me. Surely none of those answers is right?

    But apparently the third answer is correct. I think most Australians would disagree.

    The expectation to defend one’s nation, in a militaristic or any other sense, seems outdated and jingoistic. The purpose of this particular question, I suspect, is simply to instil in us a fear of external attack – because the Government knows that when we’re afraid, it can get away with just about anything.

    The notion of all able-bodied new citizens taking up arms to defend our shores, and the recent history of fighting unpopular and unsuccessful wars in far-flung places like Vietnam and Iraq, also seem at odds with what is said in the booklet to be the important Australian value of “peacefulness”. Not surprisingly, neither of these conflicts rates a mention in this history.

    It’s all about diggers, explorers and sportsmen.

    The achievements of Australian women barely rate a mention, and the contribution of Indigenous people to our national character is shamefully under-acknowledged.

    It falsely describes battles between Aborigines and settlers as “small scale” and leaves out the Howard Government’s watering down of native title post-Wik.

    The history of the Liberal and Labor parties is covered but the 30-year-old Australian Democrats are not in what passes for a history of politics.

    We learn that “a change of government at a federal election may lead to changes” and that “new departments may be formed” – wow. But not that the Senate has powers roughly equal to the House of Representatives or that senators are elected by the more representative, proportional preferential system.


    The booklet is full of useless information about national symbols, public holidays and supposedly significant events in our history. The Australian-ness of it is cringe-worthy and it would, I imagine, appeal very much to true patriots like Pauline Hanson and her friends in Cronulla.

    Alarmingly, much of the booklet reads more like an opinion piece than fact.

    It states, for instance, that of all Australian sporting heroes Sir Donald Bradman is the best known, and that “the ordinary Australian soldier, the digger, is a national hero”.

    This is John Howard’s version of Australian history. It’s masculine and conservative, and many Australians – myself included – stalwartly reject it.

    Who is he to judge what’s important and what’s not? Who’s he to define what it is to be Australian?

    Many who face this test will have been imprisoned for years because they dared to seek asylum here and, like David Hicks, they will wonder just how seriously Australia takes the value of equality under the law.

    Women will wonder when equality of men and women will be reflected in the Parliament and in boardrooms and note that the “strong tradition of mateship” largely leaves them out of the picture.

    But this citizenship test is much more than propaganda and aspirations. For some, it will represent an insurmountable barrier to citizenship and therefore a denial of the right to vote in Australian elections.

    It’s yet another assault by the Howard Government on democracy. Not everyone wishing to become an Australian citizen has the advantage of a formal education, and many will struggle to read, let alone memorise, all of the irrelevant information in Becoming an Australian Citizen.

    You can’t judge a person’s fitness for citizenship based on a test any more than you can judge a political party’s fitness for government based on its promises.

    Money talks. And this is the same with the British and Japanese situation.

    Got money? You can stay here as long as you need!

  • Japanese Gov. think their pure citizens don`t need to study english because they expect all gaijin living in own country (read: for Japanese person living abroad all foreigners around in own country are gaijin(s) for them, but they are Nihojins)) J-Gov pursue British Gov to change their minds. Why should they? Japanese want us to speak Japanese in their own country and what? they also expect all locals to speak Japanese as well? Common!!!
    GoJ always cry when it comes to their people, they cry for respect of human rights, they because of small thing happens to nihonjin abroad, make small case big through TV programs here, but in their own soil they treat others like a sh****

  • If the government doesn`t want to see foreigners with poor language skills coming to their country, why not ask companies not to hire them? That`s a fair point, isn`t it? What does a company like AEON have to say about this policy?

  • It is hypocrisy pure and simple. There are a mountain of examples of this hypocrisy but the Japanese do not see the mountain because the mainstream media here are basically the propaganda wing of Japan, Inc. Really, I strongly doubt this sort of comparative analysis would make it into the Yomiuri. That’s why it’s important that people like Debito are voicing this sort of argument.

  • Even if the mainstream media did report this hypocrisy, I highly doubt there would be any major upwelling of outrage. It’s much more important that the British media report this matter.

  • Meanwhile, the most interesting comment, in the above article, comes from the British official who suggests that the Japanese lobbying cites only economics, as if to say that the money of Japan Inc. should trump the British government’s concern with social management. If that were so, as a rule, then Japan should open its markets further to foreign companies, no?


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