Category Archives: Japanese Immigrations Law

Japan will overhaul Immigration Bureau to create agency for expected surge of blue-collar workers under new status

Extract from the Japan Times that published on August 28th, 2018. Written by Sakura Murakami (Staff Writer)
(https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/08/28/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-set-immigration-agency-cope-influx-blue-collar-ranks-abroad-new-status/?utm_source=Daily+News+Updates&utm_campaign=f0d8f21e33-Wednesday_email_updates29_08_2018&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c5a6080d40-f0d8f21e33-332793041)

The Justice Ministry will upgrade its Immigration Bureau to an agency from April to deal with an anticipated influx of foreign workers, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

With the government seeking to accept more foreign workers from April and introducing a new status of residence amid a serious labor crunch across industries, the Justice Ministry will be conducting “a fundamental revision of the Immigration Bureau” and is currently finalizing the establishment of a new agency that will oversee immigration, Kamikawa said.

When asked about how the overhaul may affect the ministry’s budgetary request for the next fiscal year, Kamikawa refrained from commenting on specifics, merely stating that “the funding needed to set up the agency will be requested as necessary.”

Media has reported that the upgrade of the bureau will see an increase of over 500 ministry staff and immigration officers, with the latter expected to help the country boost checks for inbound tourists ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Reports have also said that the ministry will be requesting about ¥3 billion within their fiscal 2019 budget for outlays related to the overhaul.

An official at the Justice Ministry did not comment on the reported figures.

The upgrade of the Immigration Bureau comes as Japan, facing a declining population and shrinking workforce, plans to open the door to blue-collar laborers from abroad, in addition to the currently accepted highly skilled foreigners, by introducing a new resident status.

The new system will allow foreign nationals who are proficient speakers of Japanese to work in agriculture, construction, hospitality, nursing and shipbuilding, and may be expanded to other sectors.

The government has so far confirmed that foreign workers will not be able to bring family members under the new residency status, and that their stay will be limited to five years.

According to figures provided by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of registered foreign workers in the nation hit a record high of 1.28 million in October 2017 — a twofold increase from the 486,398 foreign nationals seen in 2008.

On the other hand, the number of people in Japan aged between 15 to 64 who are capable of working decreased from 86.99 million in 1997 to 76.65 million in 2016, according to data submitted to the Council of Economic Fiscal Policy in February.

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Is Japan a land of contradictions or opportunities for immigration?

Extract from the Japan Times that published on July 17th, 2018. Written by Yumiko Murakami – July 17th, 2018
(https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/07/17/commentary/japan-commentary/japan-land-contradictions-opportunities-immigration/)

It is often said Japan is a land of contradictions, a society where the reality on the ground is substantially different from the facade presented to the outside world. Perhaps one of the most telling situations of such discrepancies is immigration.

According to the official statement of the Japanese government, there is no such a thing as immigration in this country. General perception is that migrant workers are only needed if they have high level professional skills or unique technical expertise.

What about the cashier with an exotic name tag on his uniform at your regular convenience store? And your grandmother’s favorite caregiver at her nursing home who speaks fluent Japanese, albeit with a slight accent? Most of these foreigner workers who are an undeniable part of Japan’s labor supply today are categorized as students or trainees. They are not work visa holders and, therefore, not counted as such in the government statistics.

The most recent data shows the Japanese economy employs 1.27 million foreigners, almost doubling since 2012. Given that only 2.5 million Japanese have joined the labor force over the last five years, it means one out of every four new workers during this period has been a foreign-born. Most of them come from neighboring Asian countries and work under the restrictive conditions required for technical trainees or students. These foreign workers have become a critical element of the lifeline of the Japanese economy, even though many of them are not officially recognized as full-fledged workers by the government.

The latest OECD report on immigration shows that temporary labor migration to OECD countries accounted for around 4.2 million workers in 2016, 11 percent more than 2015. Excluding Germany and France, whose temporary migration inflow was mostly intra-EU/EFTA posted workers, Japan was the fourth-largest host country to receive temporary labor migrants, after Poland, the United States and Australia. It is a noteworthy trend for a country that has yet to fully embrace the notion of immigration.

One could argue that there is no country other than Japan in the world today that has all the right conditions to welcome economic migrants. With the rapidly shrinking working-age population due to the declining demography, the unemployment rate is at a minimal 2.2 percent in Japan. Women who used to be under-represented in the job market now have achieved a higher labor market participation rate compared to the average OECD countries, thanks to supportive measurements taken by the government and the business sector.

Automation and robotics have been at the forefront of companies’ business strategies, but technology replaces mostly routine tasks and many low-skilled jobs are actually not suited for automation. Despite all the efforts to address the labor shortage crisis, companies are still in dire need of workers, particularly in labor-intensive sectors such as construction, agriculture, retail and nursing care. Unlike many European countries where unemployment is persistently high, temporary labor migrants pose no direct threat to native Japanese workers. On the contrary, foreign workers may be the only solution left for the Japanese economy to get back on the growth path.

Last month, the Cabinet approved a new economic policy package that includes the establishment of a new resident status for foreign workers in certain designated industries. The government hopes that this policy will bring an additional half a million foreign workers by 2025 to the business segments severely hampered by the aging demography. It is substantial progress on the part of policy makers to legitimize unskilled foreign labor in the Japanese job market. While discussing the new work visa scheme, politicians have categorically denied the possibility of these foreign workers turning into long-term migrants. “They are invited to work on a temporary basis in Japan to alleviate the pressure arising from acute labor shortages,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insisted in a Diet session.

Now that Japan is ready to officially recognize the need for foreign labor, perhaps Japanese lawmakers should be reminded that these foreign workers are economic migrants and not people in need of protection. For Japan to continue to recruit workers from countries such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Japanese proposition needs to be more competitive and attractive relative to opportunities available for workers in their home job markets and overseas.

Moreover, the aging population is quickly catching up in a few other countries in Asia, including South Korea, China and Thailand. These countries will be soon competing against Japan for the same young workers to compensate for their graying labor force. In fact, South Korea has already implemented comprehensive immigration policy packages to entice temporary labor migrants, some of whom may stay up to almost 10 years or find pathways to permanent residency.

Although temporary migration is not — initially at least, and for many programs — a stepping-stone to long-term residence, it is often closely tied to permanent migration. A sizable share of temporary migrants in OECD countries change status and stay on as long-term residents. Access to permanent residence is an important aspect of immigration policies that most international workers find attractive. It can also benefit employers by enabling them to retain trained workers. Another area of focus is language training. Migrants receiving high-quality training in local languages have proven themselves more productive in their jobs and they have more smoothly assimilated in host communities.

Japan is not the only country reviewing its immigration policies. In fact, there is an ongoing process of development and renewal of migration strategies in most countries, often accompanied by administrative shifts. They are sometimes responses to particular conditions, like new migration streams, recognition that past courses of action need to be reassessed or changes of government.

Japan could certainly benefit from best-practice sharing with other countries that have a wealth of experience with the challenges and opportunities of international migration. The good news for a novice host country like Japan is the mid- and long-term impact of immigration on labor market and broader economy has been generally positive in most OECD countries. Instead of being a land of contradictions, Japan should present itself as a land of opportunities for foreign workers.

Yumiko Murakami is head of the OECD Tokyo Centre, where she engages in policy discussions between the OECD and governments, businesses and academia in Japan and Asia, covering a wide range of economic policy issues.

With new rules, Japan looks to wipe out abuse in trainee system — but critics say more must be done

Quotation from article of  The Japan Times News  that published on November 1st, 2017. (https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/11/01/national/new-rules-japan-looks-wipe-abuse-trainee-system-critics-say-must-done/)

Japan is ramping up efforts to lure foreign vocational trainees after tougher new laws went into effect Wednesday to eliminate abuse by employers amid criticism that some have misused the program as a way to obtain cheap labor.

A Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry official overseeing the program said Wednesday that the revised regulations are aimed at stamping out and preventing violations of trainees’ human rights by Japanese employers and overseas intermediary bodies.

 A number of such violations emerged under the earlier system.

With the new law, enacted last year to improve supervision of companies employing foreign nations under the Technical Intern Training Program, Japanese employers are obliged to secure accreditation for their training programs.

The government also created a watchdog for the program — the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT) — to more effectively screen whether companies are complying with the new rules and not exploiting trainees.

“We have also introduced penal regulations to reduce human rights violations,” the ministry official said. “The trainees are no different from Japanese laborers and employers should take responsibility for their workers’ conditions.”

The official added: “They come to acquire skills they can use in their home countries but they should be treated equally in working conditions, including equal pay.”

Under the new law, employers found to have violated the trainees’ rights could face up to 10 years in prison or ¥3 million for physical abuse. Other crimes, such as denying compensation claims or confiscating passports, violate the Labor Standards Law and are also subject to punishment.

OTIT chief Yoshio Suzuki said in an official statement that “there were some people who do not understand the principles of this program and abuse it as a means of obtaining cheap labor to cover domestic manpower constraints.”

Employers that do not violate the new laws will be allowed to increase their trainee numbers and extend the training with an additional two-year program.

Until now, foreign trainees could undertake training during the first year of their stay and perform their duties only for another two years.

The labor ministry says that 228,589 foreign vocational trainees were working in Japan as of the end of last year.

But despite the changes, some lawyers and workers’ rights groups are calling for more radical reforms to prevent continued abuse.

“We believe this revision will not address underlying issues (resulting from flaws) in this system,” said Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer and a representative of Lawyers Network for Foreign Workers who has expertise in human rights issues. Ibusuki’s group comprises about 140 lawyers who have and continue to represent foreign migrant workers nationwide.

The network said that despite the recent changes, the system fails to clarify whether trainees are eligible for a fair compensation level as of the first year of their stay — in which they are supposed to acquire skills but in reality perform actual jobs.

“Most of the trainees are eligible for minimum wage payment. … But there are many who aren’t even paid that much,” said Nobuya Takai of the lawyers’ network.

Takai said that in 2016, 5,672 employers were inspected — of which 4,004 were proven to have violated the rights of foreign workers, including having them deported.

Takai said that harsh conditions have pushed many trainees to suicide, death from overwork or prompted other health-related issues.

Some escape abuse only to find themselves facing visa-violation penalties, he added.

To tackle this problem, the labor ministry said it had granted go-between status for 292 organizations in Japan to better manage the employer-employee relationship.

Japan will now accept trainees dispatched only by certified bodies in the candidates’ countries and has clarified conditions, including fees imposed on candidates, the labor ministry official said.

The trainees can choose from 137 jobs in 77 categories such as construction work, agriculture, food processing and machinery work, the labor ministry official said.

Japan has also added nursing care to the program.

But Tatsuya Hirai, of a network supporting foreign workers coming to Japan to perform nursing care under an economic partnership agreement, said the new plan should provide language training for candidates.

Under the EPA framework, which targets qualified nurses from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam, candidates must have acquired a certain skill level in the Japanese language, while such requirements are not specified in the revamped program.

Under the new system, trainees will also have access to consultation services in languages such as English, Thai, Tagalog or Indonesian.

But Toshihiko Sakae, part of a nationwide collective of small and medium-size enterprises that assists foreign trainees, told a Monday symposium on vocational trainees that even greater support is needed for workers in more remote areas.

He explained that most foreign workers are dispatched to rural areas with limited access to the internet, and that in many cases, employers confiscate workers’ documents, preventing them from seeking help for fear of retribution.

“The law has just taken effect and we will need more time to see if the changes are working,” the labor ministry official said, adding that the government is considering implementing other forms of support for trainees as well as other ways to further improve the system.

Japan launches entity to oversee foreign trainee working conditions

Excerpt from JAPAN TIMES January 26th, 2017

The government launched an entity Wednesday to enhance the supervision of companies and organizations that accept foreigners working under a government trainee program in Japan in an effort to prevent human rights abuses in the workplace.

The body, set up in line with a law enacted to that end in November, is authorized to conduct on-site inspections of companies and organizations suspected of making trainees work for low pay or long hours.

It will also introduce other companies or organizations to trainees working under bad conditions.

The body has a head office in Tokyo and plans to set up offices in 13 locations throughout Japan.

Japan introduced the training program for foreigners in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. It currently covers dozens of job categories chiefly in the construction, manufacturing, agriculture and fishery industries.

But the scheme has faced criticism both within and outside Japan as a cover for importing cheap labor. There have been reports of harsh working conditions, including illegally long work hours and nonpayment of wages.

Japan charted again a plane to deport 46 Thai people to Thailand

For the second time in a year Japan has chartered a plane for a deportation of 46 Thai migrant workers to Thailand who were detained in immigration jails because of their “illegal” stay in Japan. The same way as several months back when a different group of 75 Filipinos were also deported by a chartered plane, there is fear that several boarded the plane handcuffed and were forcefully separated from other family members. Were Humanistic considerations taken into account? Does immigration care at all about that? On the other hand, since the political situation and anti-government demonstrations in Thailand were quite strong at the time, one wonders what kind of official attention could the returnees receive.

It is also interesting to notice that the group deportation took place on the 8th December last year, in the middle of the “Human Rights Week” sponsored nationwide by the Ministry of Justice to promote the importance of the World Human Rights UN Declaration that also stresses the respect of the human rights of foreign people.

Is there no solution to regulate the legal status of “irregular” migrant workers in Japan before reaching the deportation as a last step? They are not criminals and Japan needs such workers, especially those that like Japan and the Japanese people and had come here in the middle of many serious risks to work in Japan. If the Prime Minister declares publicly that the country needs to accept about 200 thousand foreign workers a year, is not more economical to regulate the status of “irregular” foreign workers already living here? It will give certainly a much better Japanese “international image”. According to the Japan Times – 46 Thais deported aboard one plane – that mass deportation cost about 24 million yen (Dec.9, 2013).

On the other hand Japan is a signatory member of the International Convention for Refugees, something to be praised, although the official acceptance of refugees is significantly very low. Last year 3,260 people applied for refugee status and only 6 got it. Turks are on top of the applicants’ list (658), followed by Nepalese (544) and Burmese (380).

On one hand Japan is one of the engines of Globalization elsewhere for business reasons, has introduced English not only at University and College levels, but also in public Primary Schools, but official attitudes and the hearts of many citizens remain within closed doors to the acceptance of foreign migrant workers and refugees.

(Edited by Fr. Ando Isamu S.J.)

URGENT! Nigerian Family in despair

URGENT APPEAL!
Can Anybody Help?
Let me tell today about a Nigerian family. They are in EXTREME NEED. They are not yet living in the street, but that could happen next week. No money, no food, no work, not even water and gas in their old apartment. Electricity will be cut tomorrow. Unpaid bills are just piling.
I had before received their SOS calls and yesterday I made time to visit them. They are husband and wife from Nigeria in their forty’s with 3 cute small children, age 5, 3 and 1.

History Record
Husband and wife reached Narita airport on June 15, 2006 in their way to FIJI ISLANDS, without any plan to be in Japan. The wife was 6-month pregnant and upon arrival to Narita was bleeding from her nose and her legs were swollen. As a result, Japanese immigration gave them a 3-day stay in Japan to see a doctor. They took a room at Narita airport Hotel and the husband looked for help in the airport and in other places around, but nobody could understand him in English. Finally he could find a kind person that guided them to a Clinic. The baby was totally misplaced in the mother’s womb and needed long medical care. In the meantime they were staying in the Narita Hotel and spent all money they had to pay the bill (\10,000 a day). Finally some goodwill person guided them to Yokohama and provided them a room to stay free of charge.

They never thought about living in Japan and they wanted to leave as soon as possible, but the circumstances forced them to remain], they assured me.

Finally the child was born and only a year later when they went to Yokohama immigration, they were warned “you must go home” and they felt they were absolutely unattended. By the time, they had spent all the money they had and could not go anywhere.

Deportation order
On 30 November 2010, immigration and police together went to their apartment at around 9:00AM to interview them. The police arrested the husband and kept him at a nearby police station for 10 days. The husband never did anything wrong and the police brought him to immigration. There they told him to go home, but he refused because they do not have any money to go back to Nigeria. On top of that, their mother and father have already died, and there was nobody who could take care of the family. So, their wish was to take care of their family in Japan.

In December 2010, immigration gave a one-month provisional release to the husband. Later in January 2011, the wife and 3 children obtained also one-month provisional release.
They renewed their one-month stay in February again, but later for the next 2 months they could not go to immigration due to lack of money. The husband is sick and cannot (find) work, so there is no income in the family.

Finally, last May, immigration called them to appear but they answered that they did not have money to go. One day, immigration went to their apartment by car and brought them to the immigration office and back home again. That time they “forced” them to sign their deportation order. After that they were given one-month provisional release once more. They are supposed to go to immigration again on October 14, 2011.

We have started to move with our lawyers, but many other problems remain unsolved.I have often heard about “pockets of poverty in affluent societies” like Japan, but the confrontation with people like this Nigerian family always shakes my faith and challenges me to trust God more. [21 September, 2011. Ando from Tokyo]

Detention-Deportation in Japan

(By Ando Isamu  – Jesuit Social Center Migrant Desk, June 15th 2011)

While I am writing this a young mother accompanying her 3 little children is in her way for the Philippines. They are not tourists and leave Japan not because of their own will, they are “deported”.  The mother is, in fact, a single mother abandoned by her Filipino husband who had brought her to Japan.

On early March this year, I received a phone from an immigration detention center. The person I had never met before wanted me to visit her because she was very much in trouble and wanted to consult her situation with me. When I finally agreed and was able to visit her, my findings were painfully sad and I became really angry. It was true that the mother was living in Japan for several years undocumented. She had 3 small children, all of them born in Japan. From last October up to today (15 June, 2011) she was forcefully separated from her little ones and interned in an immigration jail. The oldest child at that time was 3 years & 10 months old and the smallest only 1 year & 5 months old. The children were placed in a welfare institution hours away. The mother in jail was never allowed to see them for over 8 months. She was very poor and wanted to remain in Japan and to educate her children here. She didn’t have any money, but immigration was pressing her day after day to get money for their tickets back to the Philippines, in spite that she did not have any possibility to buy them. Finally some of us decided to bring to an end such dramatic situation and gathered the needed cost of the tickets.

This way the case was closed, but the real issue remains unresolved. The legal system is kept untouched: undocumented persons are put in jail and deported. But, how can people keeping that system become so chilly and psychologically “frozen” to separate for more than 8 months a mother from her little ones? Is a detention center the only answer? Where are humanitarian ways? I have heard that there is a kind of a quota of so many thousand cases of undocumented persons to be detained and deported every year. The content of the cases doesn’t matter. To meet the quota is the most important.

Report: New Changes in the Japanese Immigration Law

Ando Isamu, SJ (Jesuit Social Center) 
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue:  No. 149 / May 20th, 2009

A controversial bill to revise the immigration laws has been presented to the Japanese national Diet to be approved before the current Diet session ends at the beginning of June.
One of the most basic changes in the legislation is a total control to be given to the central government, the Justice Ministry. The bill, open to public discussions by the lawmakers, has already drawn criticism from citizens’ groups and from some legislators of the opposition parties, as well as from the Japanese Bar Association. Nevertheless, the problem remains with the politicians, and since their constituencies do not give much weight to issues concerning foreign residents, these issues will not influence their election.

Foreign Residents Remain out of the Public Discussions

Foreign residents have been badly hit by the prolonged economic crisis. Many have lost their unstable jobs and their daily lives are in danger of total collapse. Many are seriously thinking of going home but they cannot afford the expense involved, especially those that came years ago from far away regions like Latin America. The present crisis has opened up various hidden social taboos, like the friction between the Japanese and foreign communities. This was true – is it still true – regarding Koreans living in Japan. I experienced it clearly when the first Vietnamese Boat People reached Japan, already in the late ’70s. They were officially told to look for other countries to settle down. Japan was not a choice.

In order to build ethnic reconciliation bridges like exchanges and positive dialogue between Japanese and foreign residents, the public role of government is very important regarding this issue. So is education at home and in the schools. Of course, religions can always serve as good social catalysts. At present (2007), since there are over 2 million foreigners living in Japan, this can be considered an important national issue.

Japan wants to increase the number of tourists, foreign students, and young technicians from abroad and must accept the risk of having undocumented people. It cannot prevent that. To cut the flux of foreigners into Japan would be to act against the interest of the country. According to rather modest population predictions for the future, the population of Japan by the year 2050 will decrease by between 30 and 40 million. On top of that, a high percentage of the population will be senior citizens. In a global situation where more than 200 million people are moving out of their own countries annually, Asian neighbors, like Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, with increasing youth populations, look for opportunities to work in Japan.  Actual Controversial Immigration Bill

In 1989 Japan revised the immigration law when Japanese politics were in great turmoil during the bubble economy years, but the revision was not fully discussed in the Diet. The results were an influx of Japanese-Brazilians and Peruvians, who numbered over 400,000 by the year 2007.

Today, 20 years later, in a different economic situation but in a similar political crisis, a revision of government-sponsored immigration laws is up for discussion in the Diet with the aim of getting the new bill passed at the beginning of June, when the Diet is expected to go into recess.

The main target is full control of foreign residents by the Justice Ministry, tightening immigration regulations on them. The alien registration cards will be replaced by new ones called “zairyu” containing IC chips. Foreigners are required to carry them at all times and failure to do so could occasion a fine of 200,000 yen. At the same time, not reporting promptly change of address, place of employment, marital status, etc are also subject to fines. The new bill seems to imply that the residency status of foreigners will be lost for failing to report new addresses to the officials.

In fact, the present dual administrative structure, with the central government granting residency permits and the local municipalities issuing alien registration cards and other services, will cease to exist and everything will be concentrated in Immigration alone, so that resident registrations, for instance, would be handled by the Justice Ministry, not by the local municipalities where foreigners live. There are, nevertheless, some positive points, like the concession of 5-year residency permits (at present, these are only for 3 years) and the acquisition of social insurances.

The undue official surveillance and centralization included in the new immigration bill have raised the opposition of many groups. Besides that, foreigners now are able to approach over 1,787 local municipalities which are in contact with their daily lives but, if the new bill is enacted, they will only have the choice of looking for 76 immigration offices, all over Japan. Moreover, and this is the big difference from municipalities, such offices are not in contact with foreign residents’ daily lives. Given the increasing number of divorced spouses – especially foreign wives – due to domestic violence, the change will create serious issues. As a result, the number of their children unable to attend school will increase.

Those who are interested should take a look at the statement (19 February 2009) of the Japanese Bar Association in their web site [http://www.nichibenren.or.jp/en]