JT on GOJ proposals for foreign workers


Hi Blog. Pursuant to the most recent Debito.org Newsletter on GOJ proposals for NJ workers, here’s an article giving more on how the ministries plan to “fix” things.

Already being criticized for limiting the time duration, potential contribution to Japanese society, and vagueness in scope, one wonders how far this will be applied–to other types of “workers” (such as non-blue-collar NJ employees as well)? The MOJ Minister makes it clearest that gaijin are merely guests on revolving-door labor terms, which of course I cannot support. As friend Olaf says, time to switch to Permanent Residency as soon as possible.

Still not an issue for the upcoming elections, alas. Arudou Debito at Cornell University

Competing foreign-worker plans face off
Justice chief’s proposal to open doors, briefly, for all sectors causes stir
The Japan Times Thursday, June 7, 2007

By ERIC JOHNSTON Staff writer
Courtesy of James Annan at The Community

OSAKA — If the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) have their way, it’s possible you’ll see this help-wanted ad in your English-language newspaper:

“Seeking highly trained foreign engineers and technicians to work in Japan. Successful candidates must agree to first study Japanese in their home country through a Japanese-government funded program and then pass a Japanese-government approved language proficiency examination to receive a work visa. Visa may lead to permanent residency, depending on job performance, language ability and personality, which will be evaluated by the Japanese government and their employer.”

On the other hand, if a recent proposal put forward by Justice Minister Jinen Nagase were to become law, it’s possible the ad would be written as follows:

“Seeking foreigners to work in Japan on a temporary basis (maximum three years) for all jobs and industries. All are welcome to apply, and no prior experience or ability in Japanese necessary. Successful applicants will be guaranteed a fair wage. However, visa will be good for only three years and will not be renewed under any circumstances.”

With Japan’s population expected to fall from the current 127 million to 100 million by 2050, and with slightly more than one-third of the population expected to be over 65 by then, government officials and private industries are intensifying their efforts to propose policies to make up for the predicated labor shortage by bringing in foreign workers.

Three separate proposals were announced last month. Two were METI and health ministry plans for restructuring the foreign trainee system, which has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups, lawyers and others because of the many cases in which trainees are abused, underpaid, not paid at all or exploited merely as cheap labor by small companies.

Under the current system, trainees are allowed into Japan for three years. They study the Japanese language and society in a classroom during the first year and spend the last two years in on-the-job training.

The health ministry proposes bringing in foreigners for a total of three years, all of which would be on-the-job training, with a two-year extension possible after they first return to their home country.

Three days after that proposal was announced, METI released a report calling for keeping the current trainee system, but reforming it so trainees could return to Japan, like the health ministry proposal, for an extra two years under certain conditions.

Japan does not have a guest worker system that allows unskilled or semi-skilled foreigners to come in. The ministries, as well as many lawmakers, business leaders and local governments, fear a large influx of unskilled foreign workers would take jobs from Japanese, creating social unrest. This is precisely why Nagase’s proposal has created such a stir.

The justice minister envisions a wide variety of foreign workers, not just skilled workers in METI-approved sectors, working here for up to three years. They would not be allowed to renew their visa, and they would not be given priority for permanent residency, which is what some in METI and Keidanren have proposed.

It is believed Nagase seeks a more acute need for unskilled or semi-skilled labor, particularly rural and in the services industry.

“The justice minister’s proposal recognizes that a broad range of foreign laborers are needed. It brings foreigners in through the front door to meet Japan’s coming labor demand in all sectors, whereas the METI and the health ministry proposals target technical trainees for specific sectors only, which will result in a large influx of illegal foreign labor through the side door for the other sectors,” said Michitsune Kusaka of Rights of Immigrants Network Kansai, a nongovernmental organization.

However, both Kusaka and Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the NGO Japan Immigration Policy Institute and former head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau, criticize the proposed three-year time limit.

“Putting a three-year limit on a foreign worker’s stay in Japan does not give the company doing the hiring any incentive to take the time to train them for specialized work. Of course, there is also the question of how many skilled workers would want to come to Japan if they are forced to leave after three years,” Sakanaka said.

While the three proposals are getting a lot of attention among bureaucrats in Tokyo’s Nagata-cho district and senior business leaders, the issue of what to do about foreign laborers is not expected to addressed by politicians in the Upper House election in July.

Hiroshi Inoue, a Keidanren official who helped draft its own policy on foreign laborers, which is similar to the METI proposal, said the issue of foreign workers remains off the radar for most Diet members.

“Local politicians in areas of Japan with lots of foreign laborers, especially in the Chubu region, have to think about policies for foreign laborers. But the issue is not something Diet members concern themselves with,” he said.

“The pension issue and revising the Constitution will be the focus of the Upper House election. Seriously debating proposals about more foreign laborers is not something Diet members are ready to do, although the three proposals announced in May are getting a lot of attention among bureaucrats,” Sakanaka said.

7 comments on “JT on GOJ proposals for foreign workers


    James, (and community)

    Thanks for the info. Just wanted to make a quick comment regarding the first article. I’ve been working in the scientific/medical industry for the last seven years, and the “foreign researchers in dead-end jobs” issue is something I’ve been aware of for a while.

    Terry Lloyd of Daijob (workinjapan.com) wrote a related article in December of last year.

    Might be a good read for anyone interested in the subject. I’m keen to hear who agrees with his stance and who does not!


    David in Urayasu

  • I saw that article when it came out. Based on the experiences of other
    foreigners I’ve met here, it’s obviously got a certain amount of truth
    in it. I’m not convinced as to how well it applies to me – I’m
    frequently assured that the only thing standing between me and full
    participation as an equal staff member is Japanese language
    difficulties. OTOH I can’t help but think that if they wanted my
    advice, they would ask for it in English – it’s a very international,
    English language dominated field and all of my colleagues speak
    English more-or-less fluently – many have lived abroad. In fact
    English fluency was an explicit job requirement when I came here.

    On the other other hand, “full participation” still means at a largely
    powerless level in a fundamentally dysfunctional system, so it’s not
    exactly a big carrot to dangle in front of me anyway.


  • How far are the MOJ’s proposed visa rules going to go? I mean, would the 3 year only visa system extend to every foreigner _already_ working here (including professionals and business owners), and would those with permanent jobs be thrown out because their visas ceased to be extendable? None of it seems terribly clear.


  • Well from my POV (scientific research) it seems clear that both
    proposals as described in the JT article are idiotic. The first is
    just de facto sakoku – the number of westerners who would try to learn
    Japanese just for the chance of an impermanent job here could probably
    be counted on the fingers of one hand – and the latter is clearly
    worse than the status quo, except that (a) probably most people won’t
    be affected one way or the other and (b) one could argue that it would
    actually improve the situation of some people by preventing them from
    drifting into dead end jobs. I previously objected to the 10 year visa
    plan basically on the grounds that this was ample time to completely
    destroy the career of all who came here (whereas renewable 3 year
    visas at least means that people have to make more of a conscious
    choice to stay). Of course a 3 year limit would still rule out the
    employment of anyone who was remotely successful, and effectively
    restrict immigrants to post-docs looking for a bit of adventure and a
    high salary (depending where they come from). That probably describes
    90% of the scientists who come here anyway.

    Even within the Japanese Govt, I’m sure that someone will be able to
    work this much out, and the proposals will not come into effect in
    anything like this form. Perhaps one of them may end up supplementing
    the existing system.


  • I am not a medical worker nor an IT person, but an English teacher who has been working here continuously for over 6 years on a “self-sponsored or multi-sponsored” visa. I was also in Japan for two years before returning home for a few years (because of family responsibilities) and returning. So, after over 8 years of residence, and two previous 3-year visas, I went to renew my visa this year and was given a 1-year visa because “your contracts are for only 1 year”, though they stated they were continuable, exactly the same conditions that I had been working under when I got the previous longer visas. The officer was quite rude and walked away when I asked why the length of visa had changed.

    The only change as far as I can see is that the Prime Minister has changed. I’m not aware of any other changes to the rules for visas.

    Anyway, I realize this is only my personal case, but I have to tell you that I understand what the others are saying about a discouraging work environment here. I was so discouraged by this, and the prospect of having to apply every year for the last 4 years before I am eligible to apply for a permanent visa, that I have decided to leave Japan. Maybe that’s what they were hoping for because I have no sense of being appreciated for my contribution to education or Japan, or any sense of being able to build up social credit for my living as a responsible resident worker who pays taxes and contributes to the economy.

    I am an experienced and mature teacher licensed in my home country, conscientious about professional development, and always striving to deliver quality. I was ready to continue here, but unfortunately Immigration/government has soured me on wanting to stay.I don’t think I’m alone, reading the articles from the research professionals. I wonder how and with what rationale the government can afford to bring quality workers here and then not make them welcome? I think they had better offer something more concrete than Japanese lessons in workers’ home countries, especially if all they intend to teach them is “gaman”.

  • So, I’m about to start me third year of college down here in kyushu and looking to work in Japan for awhile after I graduate. Does this mean that I would also have this 3 year residency limit? Or is this just for new people coming to Japan?
    I think no matter what, which ever system they adopt will fail and need to be completely reformed, but Im still a little worried that I might be completely wasting my time, learning a language I’ll have no use for later in life.



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