Category Archives: Migrants & Refugees in Japan

Japanese government bolsters support for foreign students seeking jobs

(Extract from Japan Times – December 20th, 2019)

The government revised Friday its comprehensive measures, which were drawn up in December 2018 in a bid to realize an inclusive society, in hopes of bolstering support for foreign students seeking jobs in Japan.

Measures to create an environment in which international students can find work easily and policies to expand the scope of foreign nationals who can take tests in Japan to obtain new types of work visas were included in the revised package.

The new package was adopted at a meeting of related ministers, which was held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.

As part of measures to increase opportunities for foreign students to find jobs here, the government will inform companies of a system in which foreign nationals are permitted to stay in the country even if there is a gap between their graduation and employment.

It will urge such students to apply for internships as well.

The government plans to hold briefing sessions at a consultation center for foreign people that will open in fiscal 2020 to spread information on the recruitment of international students.

The government will also expand the scope of people who will be allowed to take the tests for the new visa program in Japan.

While only mid- and long-term foreign residents in principle are eligible to take the tests in the country under the current system, the government will allow short-term visitors, including those visiting on business or sightseeing trips, to take the tests here as well.

Meanwhile, it was reported at the meeting that the total number of foreign residents in Japan with the new work visas stood at 1,019 as of the end of November.

Foreign students in Japan hold back on applying for newly created visas due to past illegal overwork

(Extract from Japan Times – November 15th, 2019)

Many foreign students in Nagoya have recently been found to be reluctant to apply for newly created visas intended to bring more workers from abroad, fearing their applications might not be accepted because they have been working more part-time hours than permitted for those with student visas.

Even if they pass the exam for the new visas, they have strong concerns that their past work records could prevent them from obtaining the residence status, although such cases have not been confirmed so far.

Some international students and their employers say the problem lies in the fact that many foreign students have to work more than allowed to support themselves while in Japan, where the cost of living is high and businesses are relying on them to cover a labor shortage.

“I want to reduce my part-time work hours from now even if it might be too late,” said a 23-year-old Vietnamese man studying at a vocational school in Nagoya.

Hoping to work in the restaurant industry, the man passed a proficiency exam to qualify for the new “specified skills” visa in July, but people have told him he shouldn’t file a visa application with the Immigration Services Agency.

The man came to Japan in the fall of 2015 to study restaurant management. His mother got cancer the following year and he became unable to receive financial assistance from his parents.

He worked part time at a convenience store and a restaurant, working nearly double the maximum of 28 hours a week set for people on a student visa under the ordinance for the enforcement of the immigration control law.

“I needed to make a living by myself,” he said.

He has a dream of managing a restaurant in his home country and wants to work in the restaurant sector in Japan with the new visa to acquire know-how. But after passing the exam, he was told by a staffing agency that having worked excessive hours as a student might be a problem.

Now he works fewer hours and covers living expenses on ¥25,000 a month.

Jin Yokoyama, 49, of Jtown, a Nagoya-based company that supports workers with skills covered by the visa, said he has interviewed some 20 students who passed the qualifying exam, but most have not applied for the visa for fear of being rejected due to working illegally long hours.

A 29-year-old Nepalese man, who consulted another support firm in Nagoya, said his student visa renewal application was rejected because of excessive work hours. He has given up working in Japan with the new working visa and plans to go back to his home country.

“I want to work more in Japan, but it can’t be helped,” the man said.

An Immigration Services Agency official said that generally speaking, a person would not qualify for a visa if he or she violated the ordinance. “We are not sure how many applications were rejected because of overwork,” the official said.

The new residence status was created in April under the revised immigration control law. The government was expecting to accept a maximum of 47,000 workers in the current fiscal year across 14 business sectors, including nursing care and food services, but as of Oct. 25, only 732 people were granted the visa.

The number of people coming to Japan to study, especially from Asia, has increased sharply since the government announced a plan in 2008 to raise the number of foreign students to 300,000 by 2020.

According to the Japan Student Services Organization, the number of foreign students totaled some 299,000 as of 2018, 2.4 times higher than a decade ago.

Yuriko Sato, an associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology specializing in foreign student policy, said the number of students from China and South Korea declined after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and instead more students started to come from Vietnam and Nepal.

This is because many Japanese-language schools and vocational institutions recruited students from those countries, telling them they can study while working, she said.

However, if they follow the rule of working up to 28 hours a week, they can earn only about ¥100,000 a month.

Several foreign students said there are cases of students working more than permitted — despite knowing that it is illegal — for various reasons, such as being unable to gain assistance from parents or being in debt.

“There is not one foreign student around me who is working only 28 hours,” said a 26-year-old Nepalese student in Nagoya.

Many of them have part-time jobs in two or more places, and some employers pay them using cash so that their work records won’t be kept.

“In busy times, I can’t run the place without them working long hours,” a restaurant owner said.

Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Sato said: “Instead of placing responsibility only on foreign students, we should focus more on structural problems.”

Japan’s new working visa sees only 219 holders in first 6 months 

(Extract from Mainichi Japan – November 14th, 2019)

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A new skilled worker visa introduced by Japan in April to bring in more foreign labor has only been acquired by 219 foreigners as of the end of September, the country’s immigration agency said Wednesday, falling far short of the target for the program’s first year.

While the numbers represent a more than 10-fold increase from the 20 visa holders recorded by June, they fall short of the maximum 47,550 foreigners expected to acquire the visa by March 2020.

The subdued response has been attributed to the limited test sites outside of Japan, and the narrow range of sectors for tests conducted thus far, both of which the Justice Ministry is working on expanding.

As of the end of October, tests have only been held in six countries outside of Japan, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, for six sectors, including nursing care and food service.

In order to qualify for the Specified Skilled Worker visa, an applicant must pass a skills exams and Japanese language test or have gone through Japan’s technical intern program for at least three years.

According to the Immigration Services Agency, 176 of the 219 foreigners with the new resident status used the latter method to acquire the new visa, which was introduced as part of Japan’s efforts to cope with a chronic labor shortage due to its rapidly graying population and declining birthrate.

By country, Vietnam accounted for the most foreigners holding the visa at 93. They were followed by Indonesia at 33, the Philippines at 27, and Thailand at 23.

Out of the 14 sectors eligible for working rights under the visa, food and beverage manufacturing had the most visa holders at 49, followed by industrial machinery production at 43, molding at 42, and farming at 31.

The Specified Skilled Worker No. 1 resident status allows foreigners to work in 14 sectors for up to five years in total.

Proficient workers in the construction and shipbuilding fields can further extend their stay by earning the No. 2 status, which allows holders to bring in family members and has no limit on the number of times they can renew their visas.

Only 895 granted blue-collar visas since April, immigration agency admits

(Extract from Japan Times – November 13th, 2019)

The immigration service had issued just 895 working permits as of early November under the new visa system for skilled blue-collar foreign workers, a far lower number than had originally been forecast for this time, agency officials said Wednesday.

The program, which was introduced in April, was intended to attract up to 345,000 blue-collar workers over five years for jobs in 14 sectors, including the hotel industry, to ease the nation’s labor shortage.

Those who received the new permits would be allowed to work for five years in the country, longer than the three-year period allowed under the government-sponsored Technical Intern Training Program.

As of the end of June, a record 2.83 million foreign nationals resided in Japan, including 783,513 permanent residents and 367,709 technical interns.

According to the Immigration Services Agency (ISA), the process of introducing industrial skills tests mandatory for those who apply for the new visas has not been smoothly implemented, which has slowed down an anticipated influx of workers.

As of the end of October, the tests had been conducted only in Japan and six other countries — and for only six of the 14 industrial sectors — leaving companies struggling to fill vacant jobs and pinning their hopes on the results of skills tests scheduled in coming months.

Of the 895 foreign nationals granted permits under the new visa statuses, 440 passed the exams while the remaining 455 changed the status of their visas to the new type.

Foreign nationals who wish to participate in the program can obtain the working permits if they pass tests in industrial skills and Japanese-language ability, while former technical interns can qualify if officials recognize their skills and experience from prior technical training.

Aiko Omi, director of the Office of the Specified Skilled Worker Planning at the immigration agency, explained that the blue-collar visa program has been attracting candidates from similar demographics as the government-sponsored Technical Intern Training Program.

Of the 895 workers granted permits so far, 219 were in Japan as of the end of September — up from 20 at the end of June. Of those, 80 percent, or 176, had come to Japan previously under the Technical Intern Training Program and had completed a three-year training program.

But by Nov. 8., 3,299 foreign workers had applied for the new visas and were in the process of trying to qualify for the program. Of those, 1,566 had never worked in Japan, Omi said.

Of the 219 workers in Japan as of the end of September, the largest proportion hailed from Vietnam, at 42 percent, followed by those from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Among the cohort, 22 percent were working for food and beverage manufacturers, again with Vietnamese nationals representing the largest group at 32. Other sectors where the workers were placed were industrial manufacturing, machine parts and tooling industries as well as agriculture.

By prefecture, Gifu has so far accepted the highest number of such blue-collar foreign workers, followed by Aichi and Osaka. In the individual industries, the food sector, which did not participate in the technical trainee program, saw 1,546 out of 2,194 applicants for the new visas pass skills tests held in April, June and September.

In the hotel sector, of 391 applicants who took tests in Myanmar and Japan, 280 qualified for the new working permits.

Although Japan opened up its nursing care sector, which has long faced a severe labor shortage, to foreign nationals wishing to work as technical trainees from November 2017, none of the trainees taking part in the program so far have completed the training. Of the 16 caregivers accepted into the program as of late September, those from the Philippines who were former caregivers under bilateral economic partnership agreements comprised the majority. The skills tests were only introduced in Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Japan in October.

Skills tests for job categories such as building cleaning and airport ground handling are scheduled to be held in Japan and overseas for the first time in November and December.

Japan’s immigration agency to adopt stricter measures to curb disappearances of foreign trainees

(Extract from Japan Times – November 12th, 2019)

The Immigration Services Agency (ISA) announced Tuesday it will strengthen measures aimed at curbing disappearances of foreign nationals working under the government-sponsored Technical Intern Training Program.

The agency will ban companies and organizations that participate in the program from taking in new trainees if they are found to have violated its conditions and their trainees have gone missing, immigration officials said.

The agency will also share information with overseas organizations and brokers to prevent rogue brokers from imposing conditions that violate trainees’ rights.

To protect trainees participating in the program and to stop them from fleeing, the agency is considering disclosing the names of companies whose trainees have gone missing and who thus have contributed to them illegally seeking employment elsewhere, the officials said.

Based on the set of new measures, the agency will compile specific provisions by March, they said.

At a regular news conference Tuesday, Justice Minister Masako Mori said that despite numerous preventive measures being put in place, the problem of foreign trainees fleeing their workplaces is rampant.

The ISA, which oversees the technical training program, said that 4,499 interns went missing in the first half of this year, up from 4,243 during the same period a year before. For the whole of 2018, a total of 9,052 foreign interns disappeared, nearly 2,000 more than in 2017, when the number stood at 7,089.

“We will do all we can to reduce the number of those who go missing by steadily enforcing these measures,” Mori said after approving the new measures proposed by immigration officials.

“Some efforts specified in the revised immigration law, which is also aimed at protecting the rights of foreign trainees that went into effect in November 2017, have been proving successful, but we haven’t succeeded yet in reducing the number of interns’ disappearances,” she said.

Mori took over the post of justice minister on Oct. 31 after her predecessor, Katsuyuki Kawai, resigned over alleged election law violations by his wife, who was elected to the Upper House from a Hiroshima district in July.

With the 2017 law revision, immigration authorities improved supervision of companies employing foreign trainees through on-site inspections to protect their working environment. The law also required authorization of training programs offered by organizations and companies planning to accept technical interns. The government also improved language support for foreign trainees.

But such measures turned out to be insufficient in curbing the number of trainees who disappeared, officials said.

The agency has concluded that abuse of trainees’ rights by failing to pay agreed salaries, demanding deposits or imposing other inappropriate conditions are the main reasons behind interns’ disappearances.

The agency believes that many companies that started employing foreign workers under the new blue-collar visa system, which was introduced in April, still rely on technical interns or employ their former trainees under the new visa program. The agency will conduct interviews with trainees from the same workplace as staff employed under the blue-collar visa system to verify their working conditions, officials said.

“If we discover any forms of mistreatment, which might push them to flee, we’ll be able to implement preventive measures at an early stage and thus solve the problem before it arises, before they disappear,” said Isao Negishi, a manager at the agency that supervises the program.

He added that the agency will also intensify efforts to crack down on trainees who have fled from their workplaces by working more closely with the labor ministry on revoking the escapees’ residence cards to curb their unauthorized employment.

Death of a Dream: Vietnamese Workers in Japan

Death of a Dream: Vietnamese Workers in Japan
NHK Documentary (49m 00s)
Broadcast on September 1, 2019 Available until December 1, 2019

Extract from NHK Document:
The Japanese government’s Technical Intern Training Program, a solution to the country’s severe labor shortage, is making it easier for people from other Asian countries to work in Japan. Some 1.46 million people from abroad are now working in Japan, many dreaming of a better life. But harsh working conditions, long hours, and even wage theft lead many to quit their jobs or even commit suicide. And they are often exploited by schools that charge high tuition but fail to provide an education. We explore the reasons behind this harsh trend and meet the Vietnamese monk who’s trying to reverse it.

Vietnamese site:
Giấc mơ Nhật Bản Phóng sự: Thời kỳ 1,5 triệu lao động nước ngoài
Chương trình NHK Đặc biệt NHK Documentary (49phút 00giây)
Ngày phát sóng: Ngày 1 tháng 9 năm 2019 Có thể xem đến: Ngày 1 tháng 12 năm 2019

Looking overseas to solve Japan’s labor shortage

(Extract from Japan Times – November 8th, 2019)

Entrepreneur Misa Matsuzaki likes a good business challenge. The youngest female entrepreneur to publicly list a company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange aims to solve Japan’s labor shortfall through increased migration.

Firms struggle to fill vacant jobs due to a chronic labor shortage caused by the nation’s shrinking working-age population. There are 1.5 vacancies for every job applicant. The labor pinch will only intensify as the working population plummets in future years.

By 2030, 6.4 million workers in mainly blue-collar sectors, equal to nearly 10 percent of the working population, will exit the workforce. The government hopes to fill the gap with women and the elderly. But are they ready to do blue-collar jobs?

“If we lose 6.4 million blue-collar workers by 2030, then the only choice for employers is to hire foreigners — even if they must pay them a high wage,” Matsuzaki says. “Otherwise, we will have to accept many small companies disappearing.”

In 2014, Matsuzaki started People Worldwide Co., a cross-border recruiting company that helps Japanese employers recruit overseas trainees under the government’s Technical Intern Training Program. The program was launched in 1993 with intentions to improve the skills of people from developing nations.

In practice, trainees provide employers with a cheap source of labor. By law, interns can come to Japan to work for up to five years. But they cannot bring their families or change jobs. When their training ends, they must return to their home country.

Once in Japan, trainees are captive to employers, some of whom force them to work illegal overtime. Employers can deduct inappropriate expenses from pay, causing interns to accrue debts. When the abuse became public, Matzusaki ceased taking new orders.

She discussed her concerns with her friend Kanae Doi, the Japan representative of Human Rights Watch, a global organization that investigates and reports human rights violations. Together, they asked then-Foreign Minister Taro Kono what they could do to stop the trainee program abuse. Kono was moved by the humanitarian crisis occurring in his own country. He formed a six-person public-sector advisory team in which Matsuzaki and Doi now serve.

Re-energized, Matsuzaki launched a new company, Work Japan Co., in July 2017. The firm makes a match-making app that connects migrants and employers (neither are involved with the trainee program).

In April, an amendment to the immigration control law took effect to introduce a new visa program. Under the legislation, visas are issued to non-Japanese seeking work across 14 sectors suffering from manpower shortages. The government created a new visa category, available only to those passing an advanced skills test, allowing migrants to switch jobs, bring their families to Japan and eventually become permanent residents.

Alas, the trainee program remains unchanged.

The government expects the new visa policy to attract up to 345,150 workers to Japan by 2024. Since April, however, only 616 people have obtained the advanced skilled status. Such anemic numbers will not solve Japan’s long-term labor shortfall. By one expert’s estimate, Japan’s workforce will decline 40 percent from 75 million to 45 million by 2050.

Mitsuhiro Fukao, an economist at Musashino University, thinks Japan needs 200,000 to 400,000 new immigrants each year to stabilize its population. The country needs 10 million foreign workers by 2050, according to Haruo Shimada, president of Shimada Research Institute and a former Cabinet Office adviser. There were 1.46 million foreign workers in Japan as of October last year. “We have to fill up,” says Shimada. “We have to adjust.”

Over 100,000 registered foreign users have downloaded Matzusaki’s Work Japan app. Yet few employers have so far used her platform to hire non-Japanese.

The problem is not a lack of migrants wishing to work in Japan. Blue-collar workers migrate, even temporarily, to wherever wages are highest. They are drawn by this country’s comparatively high minimum wage.

Employers are put off by the high cost of hiring non-Japanese. Legally, companies must pay them the same wages they give Japanese workers. After paying insurance, pension, training, overseas flights, dormitory and recruitment expenses, it is often cheaper to hire a nonregular Japanese worker than a foreign citizen, Matzusaki notes. This is especially true if non-Japanese switch jobs within one year.

Firms also prefer to hire Japanese workers over non-Japanese who look and act differently. “In Japan, there is no employer who thinks of hiring foreigners when they need to hire someone,” she laments.

This should change over time. “Employers know there’s a demographic-led labor shortage,” says Matsuzaki. “It’s like the proverbial frog in boiling water. It’s getting harder and harder to find new Japanese hires, but they feel that next month the situation will improve.”

Japan is running out of time. In 10 years the working population of other Asian nations will start to shrink. Where will migrants come from when competition for Asian workers heats up?

Matsuzaki may have an answer. The entrepreneur spent her childhood in South Africa when her father worked there for a Japanese trading company during the 1970s. South Africa opened her mind to the idea of working with culturally diverse people.

In 1997, when she was 26, Matsuzaki started exporting Japanese second-hand cars to the developing world. Then, the used car business had a poor reputation. Only the yakuza bought and sold second-hand cars, people thought. Yet she managed to grow and list her firm, Agasta Co., on the TSE Mothers market in 2004.

Now through Work Japan she’s looking farther afield to solve Japan’s labor shortfall. “I’m a business person who clicks with businesses which people think are untouchable,” she admits.

“Maybe it’s OK to hire people who have different color skin? I think it’s the only way for businesses to survive long term,” she suggests.

10 detainees go on hunger strike at Japanese immigration center

(Extract from Mainichi Japan – November 7th, 2019)

OSAKA (Kyodo) — Around 10 foreigners detained at an immigration facility in Osaka have staged a hunger strike to protest their protracted detention, their supporters said Wednesday.

Almost all of the detainees taking part in the hunger strike, which began Tuesday morning at the Osaka Regional Immigration Bureau, have been held at the facility for over two years, according to the supporters.

The immigration bureau has refused to comment on the reported hunger strike, saying that “there are no situations that need to be made public.”

The detainees are demanding that more goods be available for purchase within the facility and medical services improved, in addition to urging Japan to stop long detention periods and provide specific reasons when provisional release requests are denied.

A Ugandan man in his 40s, who has been detained for more than two years, spoke to a Kyodo News reporter on Wednesday, saying, “We are not criminals but are simply seeking freedom.”

“Since Tuesday, we have only been drinking water. It’s tough, but we have to hang in,” he said during an interview at the facility.

This is not the first case of a hunger strike at a Japanese immigration center.

In April last year, more than 40 detainees at the East Japan Immigration Center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, staged a hunger strike days after an Indian man committed suicide at the facility.

The incident was one in a string of deaths at Japanese immigration facilities that have been long criticized for their poor medical services and lengthy detention periods.
Foreigners without legal residency status who receive deportation orders can be detained at 17 immigration facilities across Japan, including in Tokyo, Osaka, Ibaraki and Nagasaki.

The Justice Ministry points to detention as being a way to keep tabs on foreigners who are in Japan without legal status, but supporters, including lawyers, argue it should be limited to short periods before deportation.

The U.N. Committee Against Torture has also criticized Japan’s long, and in some cases, indefinite detention periods. There is no legal time limit for detention in the country.

Filipino worker says Yokohama legal firm won’t return her passport after she quit

(Extract from Japan Times – November 5th, 2019)

An immigration law firm in Yokohama is refusing to give a passport back to a Filipino woman under an employment contract they signed earlier this year, preventing her from seeking a new job or returning home, she said Monday.

It is illegal for employers to keep passports of foreign nationals who live in Japan as technical trainees. But the country has no penal regulations concerning those of other foreign nationals, with only the labor ministry’s guidelines advising employers not to keep them.The case of the Filipino woman suggests this legal pitfall could potentially put foreign workers in a precarious position, even at a time when Japan is opening its doors wider to them, experts say.

“I can hardly speak Japanese. What will I do if something happens? I want to have my passport returned as soon as possible,” said the woman in her 30s, who had been working as an interpreter at the firm, Advanceconsul Immigration Lawyer Office.

She also claimed that the legal office has paid only part of her salary.

The woman graduated from a university in the Philippines in 2009 and arrived in Japan in April 2017. She started working in May for Advanceconsul, which she visited to renew her visa. Under the contract, the firm would keep her passport and the woman would need permission to retrieve it after making a written request. The office would also determine the manner and period of withholding her passport, she said.

She stopped working at Advanceconsul in early July but it refuses to recognize that she has quit. It has not responded to requests to give back her passport.

One of her supporters, who has been trying to get her passport back, described the firm’s action as an “act of oppression toward foreign workers.”

Some other foreign workers have also asked Advanceconsul to return their passports, but the firm has not done so. Kanagawa Prefecture’s labor committee recognized in September that the firm’s refusal to negotiate with the workers over their passports was an unfair practice.

The firm has declined to respond to inquiries from Kyodo News.

“Foreign workers are in an unstable position as their employment contracts and their residency status are linked,” said Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University, who specializes in labor regulations in Asia.
“The firm took advantage by taking away their passports and restricting their freedom to find new employment. It is an unfair contract,” he said.

The number of foreign workers in Japan has tripled over almost 10 years to 1.46 million in October last year. The government aims to accept up to around 345,000 foreign workers over the next five years, under a visa reform enacted in April.

There is no movement so far by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to prohibit employers from keeping their foreign workers’ passports.

“More foreign workers will come to Japan, but its policies for protecting them are weak,” Saito said. “The government should come up with new measures, including banning the practice of employers keeping employees’ passports.”

Record 5,160 firms employing foreign trainees in Japan violated labor laws in 2018, ministry says

(Extract from Japan Times – August 9th, 2019)

A record 5,160 business facilities employing foreign technical intern trainees were told in 2018 to correct practices that violated labor-related laws, the labor ministry has said.

The number shot up from 4,226 in 2017, in line with an increase in foreigners working under the country’s Technical Intern Training Program and companies accepting them, according to the ministry’s announcement Thursday.
Of the total, 23.3 percent were told to correct their practices over illegal overtime work, followed by 22.8 percent that infringed safety standards and 14.8 percent that failed to pay additional wages for overtime and work outside regular daytime hours.

A total of 19 serious cases were reported, for which papers were sent to public prosecutors. In some of the cases, workers were not paid for over six months, and in others the interns worked 180 hours of overtime per month.
Law violations were found at 1,937 business facilities in the machinery and metal industry, the largest number by industry.

The number stood at 936 in the food industry, 502 in the textile and clothing industry, and 474 in the construction industry.

Many foreign trainees are now employed in these industries.

Japan to conduct tests for prospective caregivers in four Asian nations this fall

(An excerpt from The Japan Times – July 25th, 2019)

Japan will conduct tests in Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar and Mongolia this fall for prospective caregivers who want to work in Japan under a new visa program, according to government officials.

The labor ministry said last week that the exams, aimed at securing more workers in the short-staffed sector, will be held between October and November.

Since introducing the new visa system on April 1, Japan has carried out tests for potential caregivers in the Philippines and will conduct more from August through November. So far, 166 people have passed the exams.

Preparations are also underway to conduct tests in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, according to an official at the ministry.

The visa system was introduced as part of Japan’s efforts to cope with a chronic labor shortage due to its rapidly graying population and low birthrate.

Foreign nationals with Japanese-language and certain job skills can apply for the Specified Skilled Worker No. 1 resident status, which allows them to work in 14 sectors such as nursing care, construction and farming, for up to five years.

Applicants seeking to become certified caregivers can obtain the status if they pass a Japanese proficiency exam, which is required for all 14 sectors, as well as two other tests to evaluate their nursing care skills and familiarity with certain, technical Japanese vocabulary.

The exams are scheduled for Oct. 27 to 30 in Phnom Penh, Oct. 27 and 28 and Nov. 5 and 6 in Kathmandu, Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 and Nov. 4 to 7 in Yangon and Nov. 14 to 17 in Ulaanbaatar.

Parents are detained, Kids are put in children’s facilities

(Extract from Tokyo Shimbun May 13, 2019)
Family separation on the increase

According to documents disclosed by the Ministry of Justice to opposition parties’ members, the number of children sent by Immigration to be protected in children’s centers due to their parents’ detention has been on the increase. Immigration has ordinarily proceed ahead with deportation without any restraint for foreigners with children, Lawyers who are familiar with the human rights of foreigners criticize immigration, “no parent will usually leave behind his/her children and escape. Such detentions are unnecessary and meaningless.”

A person of the Immigration Bureau remarked, “since the detained parents cannot have custody ability, there is no other way except asking the children’s institutions to take care of their children.” However, a 29-year-old man from Turkey, who was denied entry in 2017, at Narita Airport and was immediately detained, testifies that he was separately detained with his wife (24), and their two little children were sent to a children’s center.

Koichi Kodama of the Lower House says “The International Conventions on Human Rights and on the Rights of the Child prohibit intervention into family and family separation by the state. Immigration authorities are acting against these.”

Professor Eriko Suzuki of Kokushikan University (immigration policy) says, “The rapid increase in family separation indicates that the Ministry of Justice has strengthened their policy to drive foreigners into a corner to return home. The mental pain of the parents who are separated from their children is immeasurable, and the existence of parents is essential for the growth of children. We should carefully consider the circumstances of each case and judge the pros and cons of special residence permission under the principle of respect for human rights.”

Japan to allow foreign students to apply to switch visa and start their own companies

(Extract from The Japan Times – June 13th, 2019)

The government on Tuesday made a decision on a regulatory reform measure to allow foreign students to start their own companies.

With the revision, foreign students will be able to switch their residence status while at university to one that allows them to undertake entrepreneurial activities.

The measure was decided on at a meeting of the Council on National Strategic Special Zones, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It will be included in a new growth strategy to be approved at a Cabinet meeting in late June.

The government hopes that the measure will help increase the number of enterprises launched by foreign nationals, mainly in areas outside Tokyo.

At present, non-Japanese staying on a student visa cannot start a new business unless they quit or graduate from their schools, go back home and then receive a visa allowing for such an activity.

The government also decided on a measure to enable employers to pay salaries through smartphone payment services, mainly to meet the needs of foreign workers.

Japan to encourage foreign workers to maintain employment outside major cities

(Extract from The Japan Times – June 11th, 2019)

The government is planning measures to encourage foreign workers with specific skills under the country’s new visa statuses to secure jobs and continue employment outside of big cities, officials said Monday.

The measures are designed to prevent a concentration of such workers in urban areas, according to an understanding reached by some attendees at a meeting of ministers on the acceptance of and coexistence with foreign workers. The measures will be decided officially at a plenary session soon.

Specifically, the government will consider adopting preferential measures for a technical trainee with relatively low professional skills switching to certain visa statuses if the trainee continues to work for the same company.

The measures include simplified procedures for the switch. The government hopes that the measures will help discourage technical trainees working for companies in rural areas from relocating to Tokyo or other urban areas for higher wages.

In cooperation with Hello Work public job placement offices, the government will also select several municipalities where foreign workers will be encouraged to seek employment. The government will provide support to small firms and foreign workers there for two years to establish a model for offering assistance.

The meeting members also decided to create a service that will accept inquiries for consultations on issuing visas, employment and departures from and entry to Japan. The facility is expected to open in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, as soon as fiscal 2020.

Immigration’s internal documents: “Reducing applications is urgent”

(Extract from Asahi Shimbun – May 20th, 2019)

According to UNHCR’s 2017 statistics, the number of people recognized as refugees by the Japanese government was only 20 people, the lowest among the G7 countries. The largest number is 147,671 for Germany. Italy is the second smallest after Japan, but still, it has recognized 5,895 people. Japan is the only country with a recognition rate of less than 1%, as it is pointed out by UNHCR.

And according to the 2018 data released by the Ministry of Justice in March, the number of recognized refugees increased to 42 people while the number of applicants decreased by 47% to 10,493 people.

Japan Lawyers Network for Refugees (JLNR) pointed out, “since the restrictions of repeated applications have tightened, it makes applicants shrank, and there may have been situations where the application has to be withdrawn in order to avoid detention.

An internal document indicating that immigration is trying to artificially reduce the number of refugee applicants is the “notification” within Tokyo Immigration Narita Airport Branch, dated November 16, 2018. This notification requires Sri Lankans that are increasingly applying for refugee status to answer questions by writing on paper confirming if he/she “is going to return within the visa period” or “if the person is in a situation not able to return”.

This is not only discrimination against a particular nationality, but it is also an obvious attitude that they do not want to accept the person. Such measures should not be taken by a contracting party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” Syogo Watanabe of JLNR says. “There is an absolute contradiction” in the current situation where the same agency carries out immigration control and refugee status determination.

Does not Japan want to accept refugees?

(Extract from Mainichi Shimbun – May 15th, 2019)

Confronted with a Kurdish father’s long-term detention, his sons cry “Come back”

A Kurdish man from Turkey has been in a detention center since last January. Chorak Mehmet came to Japan in 2004. He has repeatedly applied for refugee status but he was refused and detained when he went to immigration for the extension of his temporary release, last January.

Deportation decrees have been issued to all members of his family, including the second son (11) and third son (8), born in Japan. “The deportation order is contrary to the rules of freedom and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is part of the international human rights treaty, that Japan has ratified, and it is clearly illegal”, according to the attorney, Masaichi Hikawa.

In March, Mr. Chorak, whose long-term detention continued, fell into extremely bad health conditions. His relatives heard the complaint over the phone and arranged ambulances twice, but Immigration officials repulsed them. This issue was taken up by the National Assembly as well.

According to the defense counsel, the recognition rate of Turkish nationals who applied for asylum in the last 17 years is about 35% on average in the world, but in Japan, not a single one has been recognized.

Several Schools refuse children who are “Unable to speak Japanese”

(Extract from Mainichi Shimbun – May 17th, 2019)

When foreign nationals wish to join a school in areas where Japanese language instruction systems are not in place, there are schools that virtually refuse them because they cannot speak Japanese.

Dangol Lapina (18) came to Japan in 2014 without being able to speak Japanese, to live with her mother, in Akishima (Tokyo), when she was 13 years old. According to her mother, she went to the Akishima City Board of Education to enter school and received a “School Designation Notice.” Nevertheless, she was told that “she could not enter school if she did not understand Japanese”.

The girl learned daily conversation at “YSC Global School”, a Japanese language school operated by an NPO in Fussa city, and after five months she became able to speak simple Japanese and entered the first grade of junior high school.

Nevertheless, there was no Japanese language instruction at school and “all classes were difficult”. There was also bullying.

In the second year of junior high school, a Japanese language instructor was dispatched once or twice a week from the City Board of Education. After summer, she began to understand Japanese, little by little and was also able to make friends.

Living in Japan-Foreign Children ― 

After moving from a dispersed area, Japanese language skill have been greatly improved
(Extract from Mainichi Shimbun, May 9th, 2019 – Series Articles)

The contents of help for foreign nationals who require Japanese language education differ greatly depending on the region. Ramires Annis (10), a five-year-old boy who spent two years in a “dispersed area” with few foreign children, could speak only fragmented Japanese, but after taught at a school in a Japanese language class of “special curriculum”, his Japanese has greatly improved so much that he could write a composition. He has moved to Hirose Elementary School, where 20% of the children are foreign nationals.

According to the MEXT survey in 2004, 10,418 of the 43,947 children who needed Japanese language instruction were involved in such a curriculum.

My experience in Fukuoka ― not all trainees working in Japan have negative views of Japan

Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 206 / April 15th, 2019
Jessie Tayama, Migrant Desk (Jesuit Social Center staff)

The Catholic Commission of Japan for Migrants, Refugees and People on the Move (J-CaRM) National Workshop 2019 was held in Fukuoka from February 28th to March 2nd, 2019. There were about 130 participants (priests, sisters, lay people, missionaries etc.) coming from all over Japan to attend this meeting.

Day One. Four speakers talked on several different issues; a Vietnamese Priest Fr. Peter Thoai talked on how he could better the life of Vietnamese living in Japan, Ms. Yamagishi spoke about the new immigration law that comes to effect from April 1st, 2019, “Zero Campaign Aspiration” was the topic of Fr. Takashi Seto (Caritas) and finally Fr. Marcel Kauss of Minoshima Pastoral Center spoke about drug addicts rehabilitation (DARC), the homeless, and foreigners.

Day Two. Field trips were divided into 3 groups. Group 1 – History of Forced labor and the situation of the Korean School in Shimonoseki. Group 2 – Visit the Old Site of Coalmining Area of Chikuho where people were brought to work without their will from occupied territories in the Korean Peninsula. Group 3 – Visit a cow ranch and a vegetable farm where Technical Intern trainees work along the Chikugo River.

I was in the Group 3 field trip with 42 participants. The group’s guide was Mr. Iwamoto Mitsuhiro of Network for the rights of Technical intern trainees in Kitakyushu, assisted by Ms. Ariyoshi Kazuko from ACO / Kurosaki Church. And also Fr. Moriyama Shinzo of Fukuoka Colegio and Mr. Yoshida Tsutomu of J-CaRM.

On our first stop at Haraguchi Ranch in Kanzaki, Saga, we were greeted by President Haraguchi, the owner of the cow ranch, Mr. Otsuka Rikihisa the Board Chairman of Fureai Cooperative Association and his assistant Mr. Kimura. We toured around the cow ranch and met up 3 Vietnamese trainees with whom we had a short conversation.

The second stop was at Ogori church (St. Francis Xavier) for a lunch break. After lunch, Mr. Otsuka gave a talk on technical trainees. He runs a company that brings in trainees from overseas to Japan. Initially, he brought trainees from China, but now only Vietnamese. He explained that most companies that bring in the trainees are good companies which follow the proper legal terms, but there are also some bad companies too. It’s the same as with trainees, some are really good who come here to work and some are not.

Trainees who criticize the company for paying them a low wage, need to look into several facts. It’s common that those working in Fukuoka will get a lower salary (\814 per hour) than Tokyo. Mr. Otsuka explained that it’s not just to compare the salary scale in this way. Every year about 5,000 trainees (3%) run away from their workplace just before their visa expires.

Every month his company charges \25,000 fees to the trainees for coming to work in Japan. That amount includes 2 ways air-tickets and the handling of fees etc. He brings in 10 trainees from Vietnam per year. Mr. Otsuka explained further that one needs to look from the angle of the company because they have to make monthly trips to trainees’ workplace to check and to make a report and that causes expenditure for his company. He does not treat them just as employees only but also create a good communication environment for them i.e. going together for a trip, inviting them to his house for a barbecue party, year-end rice cakes making, etc. After completing the 3 years contract usually, the trainees are thankful to Mr. Otsuka.

The third stop was an Ogata vegetable farm in Yasutakecho. Mr. Ogata, the President of the vegetable farm introduced 5 Vietnamese trainees working there. They looked happily working there despite, the cold weather during the winter and hot weather during the summer. The Vietnamese priest and sisters accompanying us spoke to them in Vietnamese for a while, but when the time to leave arrived some of them started to cry. They felt a little sad and missed talking to someone of the Catholic faith. Some are Catholics who are not able to attend masses or receive holy-communion since the workplace is located far away from a church.

The last stop was at Imamura Catholic Church (St. Michael Archangel) in Tachiarai-machi, Fukuoka. Imamura Catholic Church was built (1913 and was registered as one of Japan’s National Important Cultural Property in 2015) in the Romanesque style with red bricks and has two towers. As one of the few brick churches remaining in Japan, it is highly valuable.

Day Three. Groups presentation and discussion.

Conclusion: I was glad to join the Group 3 field trip. It was an eye-opening for me to see the real situation that sometimes we need to see with our own eyes and to listen to persons that are in contact with trainees. It is not enough to obtain information through the internet or mass media. Often such information presents negative views of trainees coming to work in Japan. But, in reality, there are good companies in Japan who do take care of their employees.

TEPCO accepts foreign workers with “specific skills” to work in Fukushima

TEPCO accepts foreign workers with “specific skills” to work in Fukushima
(Extract from Asahi Shinbun – April 18th, 2019

It has been found that TEPCO decided to accept foreign workers with “specific skills” to work at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, to do on-site work there.

The Ministry of Justice disapproved the acceptance of having technical trainees working at TEPCO Fukushima first nuclear power plant given that their main purpose to be accepted is “international contribution”. However, as a result of inquiring about the content of “specified skills” the Ministry of Justice agreed that, “Foreign workers can be accepted within the new qualifications. It is possible for them to work anywhere the Japanese are working.”  The reason is that there is labor shortage in the entire construction industry. In addition, there are specific reasons related to the work to be done at the nuclear power plant.

First exam held in Japan for foreigners seeking working visas under new system

(Extract from Kyodo News – April 14th, 2019)

Japan, gearing up to accept more foreign workers under its new visa system launched earlier this month, held a qualification exam for applicants for the first time Sunday.

The exam, which took place at several locations across the country, focused on checking knowledge and skills required to work in the country’s accommodation industry.

The first exam, but for candidates hoping to work in the nursing care business, was held in Manila on Saturday.

Japan created a new visa system on April 1 to bring in more foreign workers to the country struggling with an acute labor shortage, marking a major policy shift from its traditionally strict immigration rules.

Over the next five years, the government expects up to 345,150 foreign migrant workers to acquire a newly created resident status called Specified Skilled Worker No. 1 to work in 14 labor-hungry sectors such as accommodation, nursing care, construction and farming. The visa will enable them to stay up to five years.

About 390 people sat Sunday’s exam, which was held at seven test sites including in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The results will be announced May 25.

The exam involved a paper test concerning knowledge of the service industry, and a customer service skill test.

Many of the applicants are believed to be students who have the experience of working at hotels as part-time workers in Japan.

Elma Sulistia Ningrum, a 24-year-old Indonesian living in Saitama Prefecture, said she can speak Japanese and English but the knowledge test was difficult because she was not familiar with the hotel business.

The job seekers will also have to clear a Japanese language proficiency test before applying for the new visa. As for the accommodation industry, successful candidates will likely be granted the visa in the summer at the earliest, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

The government hopes the influx of foreigner workers will ease the manpower shortage at hotels, especially those in rural areas, which could lead to a further increase in tourists.

An exam for the food service industry is scheduled in Tokyo and Osaka later this month.

In the past, Japan limited the issuance of working visas to people with professional knowledge and high skills, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers. But it decided to loosen the restrictions on the entry of foreign workers from April to tackle serious labor shortages amid the country’s aging population and falling birthrate.

423 foreign prisoners repatriated

(Extraction from Kyodo – April 10th, 2019) 

Japan repatriated 423 foreign prisoners over the last 16 years under an international treaty designed to help rehabilitate and reintegrate convicted criminals, Justice Ministry officials said Tuesday.

Japan is a signatory to the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons along with members of the Council of Europe and the United States. A related domestic law was put into force in June 2003.

It has signed separate bilateral treaties with Thailand, Brazil and Iran, which are not members of the convention, and is negotiating similar agreements with China and Vietnam.

Serving terms in home countries where there are no language or cultural differences should help the prisoners’ smooth return to society”, a ministry official said.

For a prisoner to be transferred under the treaty, Japan, the prisoner and his or her home country must consent. The offense committed by the potential transferee must be a crime in both countries.

The 423 prisoners were transferred to 30 countries. The U.K. topped the list with 61 prisoners, followed by the United States at 54, the Netherlands at 51, Canada with 44 and South Korea at 43, according to the ministry.

Japan, for its part, has had 10 of its nationals repatriated, with five returning from the United States, three from Thailand and two from South Korea, it said.

The Justice Ministry plans to continue using the transfer system as about 40 percent of the roughly 1,600 foreign prisoners in Japan are from signatory states, and 50 of the 146 Japanese serving terms abroad are also doing so in signatory countries.

For those who cannot or do not wish to be sent home, some Japanese prisons offer meals, specific beds and language services catered to their needs.

Japan has introduced an international office tasked with dealing with foreign prisoners at prisons in Tokyo, Tochigi, Kanagawa, Aichi and Osaka prefectures.

Among them, Tokyo’s Fuchu Prison- which hold the country’s largest foreign prisoners contingent of 332, or about 20 percent of the total prison population – has a three-story building for foreign prisoners.

Exams for care workers in consideration of foreign applicants

Exams for care workers in consideration of foreign applicants
Teacher Hiroshi Ito teacher at Tokyo YMCA Medical and Welfare College
(Extraction from Asahi Shimbun – April 12th, 2019)

The rate of Indonesian students who passed the Japanese national exam for care workers was around 30% this time. Under the EPA system, foreign people who cannot pass the care workers’ exam within 5 years must return home.

In the current examination system, all students, Japanese or not have to solve almost the same problems. The difference is that foreigners have Japanese syllabaries and their answering time is 1.5 times longer than that of the Japanese. The questions cannot be solved without understanding difficult Japanese words such as “inconspicuous” or questions about how to put on a costume to a dead person.

I hope that the exam is modified to fit our times of globalization. It should be also considered how to incorporate personal experiences and qualifications in the original country for the assessment of the exam. We should face the reality that talented human resources are leaving Japan without including such modifications.


Small Japanese firms fear foreign workers will abandon them when new visas kick in

Small Japanese firms fear foreign workers will abandon them when new visas kick in
(Extraction from Chunichi Shimbun – March 24th, 2019)

Small and midsize firms fear the new visa system that started April 1st, 2019, will end up helping only major firms in large cities, since those who qualify for the two new “specified skills” visas will be free to switch companies in the same sector.

The small companies feel they will continue to struggle to secure competent workers because they have to compete now with big-name companies offering higher pay.
Foreign trainees who meet certain criteria will also be able to switch to the level of new visas without extra testing, so companies are again concerned they might suddenly decide to go to work for a bigger company.

At Nishio, an auto parts maker in Aichi Prefecture, six of the roughly 30 employees are trainees from China, Vietnam and Indonesia to produce screws and check finished products.

Okada, the company’s president, started accepting foreign trainees about 10 years ago, because they were basically not permitted to change employers during their stay. He thought it was a way to secure enough staff. But, now Okada fears some of the newly hired ones might move to larger companies, just like the Nikkei Brazilians and Peruvians did in the past. The firm has taken measures to improve working conditions, but nothing seems to work he said

The Human Resource Support Corporative Association Tokai, an intermediary body in Hekinan, Aichi Prefecture, that acts as a broker and support Centre for foreign trainees, said that dispatch of technical interns from Vietnam and Indonesia to Japan has become increasingly difficult.

About 100 firms in the Chubu region have also to compete not only against rivals within Japan but also from overseas.

Death of 174 Trainees working long hours with debts

Death of 174 Trainees working long hours with debts
Extract from Tokyo Shimbun – December 18, 2018)

Temple Nissinkutu in Minato-ku, Tokyo. At the altar there were a row of mortuary tablets for Vietnamese people who died in Japan. “Many of them were young technical trainees in their 20s and 30s,” said Buddhist nun Tick Tham Chi (40). Many of the technical trainees who come to Japan pay a large amount of money to sending agencies and malicious brokers in their home countries and become debt-ridden.

Some of the trainees endure longer working hours and tougher jobs than the Japanese to repay debts, and even when they become sick hesitate to go to the hospital. Some are driven to commit suicide. A 25-year-old man who killed himself left this note “violence and bullying are painful”.

Buddhist nun T. T. Chi who has held over 100 funerals of technical trainees (60%) and foreign students since 2012, says “I’m worried that even after the changing of the law, discrimination related to foreigners might be repeated.”

Such suicides and unnatural deaths are said to be the result of poor working conditions. Reporter Minetoshi Yasuda says “It is difficult for them to change the workplace even if there is bullying, power harassment, or trouble. There is no family or friend who can be consulted. In such a situation, long-hour work of low-paid continue. Thus, anybody can become mentally ill”.

Regarding the Revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law

Suzuki Masako (Attorney-at-law, Izumibashi Law Office)
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 205 / February 15th, 2019

1. Introduction
During the 197th Extraordinary Diet session held on December 8, 2018, partial amendments for the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Justice were passed. The contents of the laws include (1) establishment of the resident statuses for technical intern training (i) and technical intern training (ii), and (2) establishment of the Immigration and Resident Status Control Agency as its main components.The following will explain in further detail about the items above.

2. Establishment of Technical Intern Training (i) and Technical Intern Training (ii)
1) The significance of the technical intern system
To counter the serious labor shortages in small to medium and small-sized businesses for industries that face labor shortages, although improvements in productivity and efforts in acquiring labor inside Japan have been made, building a system that welcomes foreign laborers who have skills in a particular field as effective workers (the basic policy of running a system regarding the residence status of technical interns) has been done, and accepting foreign laborers has been recognized as its purpose.

2) What are “technical intern training (i)” and “technical intern training (ii)”?
Of the newly established statuses of residence, technical intern training (i) is a status for foreigners who are involved in work that requires knowledge or experience in technical skills equivalent to a designated industry. Technical intern training (ii) is a status of residence for foreigners who are involved in work that requires experienced technical skills of a designated industry.

The designated industrial fields are comprised of 14 categories: nursing care (caregiving), building cleaning (cleaning of multi-floor buildings), materials processing (forges and foundries), industrial machinery manufacturing industry, electric and electrical information related industries, construction, shipbuilding and ship industries, automobile maintenance, airport ground handling and aircraft maintenance (aviation), hotels (lodging), agriculture, fishery, food and drink manufacturing industry, and restaurants (foodservice). The technical intern training (ii) category only accepts construction, and shipbuilding and ship industries.

Foreigners who acquire the status of residence as technical intern training (i), are generally divided into new foreigners entering the country, or existing foreigners in Japan who have finished their technical intern training or study abroad program. As a general rule, to acquire this status, passing technical skills exams and daily life and Japanese language tests are required. However, foreigners who have completed intern training (ii) will be exempt from these requirements. For this status, the periods of stay are one year, six months, or four months (renewals accepted), with the maximum total of residence being five years. Bringing along family members is generally not allowed, but they are eligible for the support provided by accepting organizations and registered support organizations, which will be described later in this text.

The periods of stay for the technical intern training (ii) status are three years, one year, or six months (renewals accepted). The level of technical skill will be checked through exams and other methods, but for checking of the level of Japanese, they are not required to take exams again. If certain requirements are met, bringing along family members (spouse and children) is allowed. Foreigners of this status are not eligible for support provided by accepting organizations and registered support organizations.

3) What are accepting organizations and registered support organizations?
Such accepting organizations, to which foreign residents with special skills and residential qualifications belong are said to be the subjects to implement assistance to provide guidance for daily life before coming to Japan, assistance to find a dwelling place, and to acquire Japanese language needed for technical intern training. Nevertheless, they can entrust the implementation of the assistance to already registered organizations for assistance. (In accordance with the newly planned system, there will be a need for them to be registered by the administration head of the new immigration body to be established).

4) Present status of implementation and schedule
After April of the current year, a maximum of 345,150 foreign technical interns will be accepted during the five-year span.

Of the 14 categories mentioned above, caregiving, lodging, and foodservice will have technical intern training (i) examinations held this April. Examinations must be held for these three categories because the previous accepting period for technical interns in caregiving does not meet the required three years for technical intern training (i), and lodging and foodservice were not a part of the training system. Examinations must be held to accept technical interns in April.

Japanese language examinations are currently held in Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Mongolia. An agreement between the countries will be made by March. Examinations are also planned to be held in Japan, but no details are announced yet.

Among technical intern training (ii), the examinations for shipbuilding and ship industries are expected to be held from FY 2021. For construction, it is said that with the use of the existing technical skills test, acquisition of the status by this April may be possible.

3. Establishment of the Immigration and Resident Status Control Agency
Another big revision of the law this time is the establishment of the Immigration and Resident Status Control Agency. As it will be established under the Ministry of Justice, it does not differ from the previous Immigration Bureau, but while the Immigration Bureau served as an internal department, this new agency will work as an external bureau like the Public Security Intelligence Agency and the Public Security Examination Commission.
According to the explanation given by the Ministry of Justice, this new establishment will make the Ministry of Justice’s duties regarding immigration control from a “fair control on immigration” to a “fair control on immigration and residency”. The duties will be: (a) to aim for a fair control on immigration and residency, and (b) to assist the affairs of the Cabinet, regarding designated important policies of the Cabinet about the duties in (a). The head of the agency will be the Secretary of Immigration and Resident Status Control.

As mentioned in the above, the main purpose of this agency is “control”. According to the media, the newly established Immigration and Resident Status Control Agency will be divided into “Department of Immigration Control” and “Department of Control and Support of Resident Status”. Duties of supporting the daily life of foreigners will be newly added.

However, the intended purpose of the Immigration and Resident Status Control Agency is to “control” foreigners. In reality, nearly all support on daily life given to foreigners has been entrusted to local governments, and has not been done on a national level. It is uncertain whether the Immigration and Resident Status Control Agency will be able to take responsibility for these duties.

4. Summary
For a long time, Japan has been not accepting immigration of foreign laborers for unskilled labor. However, in reality, Japan does not have a working force sufficient to run unskilled labor independently. Throughout the years, foreigners, such as non-regular residents, Nikkei Sansei (third generation, born in Japan), technical interns and exchange students, have done unskilled labor different from their official purpose.

This new framework to accept foreigners shows some progress by admitting the acceptance of foreigner laborers to counter labor shortages, which differs from past situations that used foreign laborers differing from the original purpose.

On the other hand, the system has the title “international contribution”, but there are still many problems with the continuation of technical interns, which already has exceedingly of numerous issues of its own. It is a system that relies on technical interns, and leaves all the duties of aiding technical interns to accepting organizations. It also lacks the removal of brokers from sending countries, which has been an issue linked with the technical intern system for a long time. Another issue is how bringing along family is not allowed, throughout a span of five years for technical interns (i). Furthermore, assurance of human rights for foreigners is exceedingly weak, and interpretation of the resident status, which serves as the base of living in Japan, is left to the wide discretion of the government. No action is taken about the issue of foreigners who have lost their resident status once and are left in inhumane conditions, while the acceptance of foreigners is speeding up. There is no doubt that this is an issue that is exceedingly big, from the perspective of human rights for foreigners.

The technical intern system is planned to be reviewed in three years. We must see how this new system will be managed, and it will become important to raise our voices.

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)

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.

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

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. (

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.

Migrant Workers in Japan (Part 2 of 2)

Ando Isamu SJ,Jesuit Social Center staff, Head of Migrant Desk

Foreign workers in Japan hit record 717,504

The number of foreign workers in Japan stood at 717,504 at the end of last October, up 5.1 percent from a year before according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The figure was the highest since it became mandatory for employers to submit reports on foreign employees to the ministry in 2007. The increase reflected an improvement in the employment situation amid the economic recovery and Japanese companies’ growing moves to hire foreigners with special skills, according to the ministry.

Of all foreign workers, 27.3 percent were in Tokyo, followed by 10.9 percent in Aichi Prefecture, 5.9 percent in Kanagawa Prefecture, 5.3 percent in Osaka Prefecture and 5.2 percent in Shizuoka Prefecture.


Japan may boost immigrant numbers

While stressing that no decision has been made, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Friday (March 14, 2014) did not deny a media report that the administration is considering increasing the number of immigrants to boost Japan’s potential for long-term economic growth.

As he pointed out, during the Feb. 24 session of a subcommittee of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy—a key advisory body for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—the administration revealed an estimate that Japan will be able to maintain a population of more than 100 million if it accepts 200,000 immigrants a year, and the total fertility rate, a key indicator of a country’s birth trends, recovers to 2.07 by 2030 from the current 1.39.

Whether to accept huge numbers of immigrants to maintain Japan’s economic potential has long been a politically sensitive issue. Many conservative lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are opposed to such ideas.

Nursing care worker shortage
According to a fiscal 2013 survey by the Care Work Foundation, more than 20 percent of nursing care facilities, suffer from shortage of workers. The shortage is particularly serious in urban areas.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimates that there were 1.49 million nursing care workers in fiscal 2012. But it forecasts that in fiscal 2025, the nation has to secure an additional 880,000 to 1 million such workers. It should be noted that only slightly more than 60 percent of the 1,086,000 registered certified care workers are actually working.

The situation of foreign Workers “technical intern training”
The foreign technical intern training program started in 1993, ostensibly as part of Japan’s “international contribution” to increasing skills and know-how in developing countries.
There are two ways to enter the program. One is to get hired directly by a branch of a major Japanese company. The other route is to get recruited by a “supervising organization,” such as a chamber of commerce, small business association or cooperative, associated to Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), to intern at a small or midsize business. Most trainees enter via this latter method.

An estimated 142,000 foreign trainees were enrolled in the program at the end of 2011, with 107,000 from China alone. The others hailed from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. At the peak, around 2008, there were about 200,000 trainees in Japan.

The trainees are sent via 760 “sending organizations” approved by their home countries and dispatched through the supervising organizations to the employers.

Problems that have been associated with the program
Although the purported objective of the trainee system is to help developing countries, experts say that in reality, it is being used to pool cheap, unskilled labor for Japanese companies.

Other alleged mistreatment includes employers seizing the interns’ passports and bank cards, and holding onto some of their pay as “savings” to prevent them from running away.

Justice Ministry data meanwhile indicate that the mistreatment of apprentices has been rising in the past couple of years despite the legal revisions.

In 2012, 197 organizations and companies were found engaged in “unfair practices,” up 20.9 percent from the 163 cited in 2010.
JITCO chat

An estimated 142,000 foreign trainees were enrolled in the program at the end of 2011, with 107,000 from China alone. The others hailed from Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar. At the peak, around 2008, there were about 200,000 trainees in Japan.
The trainees are sent via 760 “sending organizations” approved by their home countries and dispatched through the supervising organizations to the employers.

Problems that have been associated with the program
Although the purported objective of the trainee system is to help developing countries, experts say that in reality, it is being used to pool cheap, unskilled labor for Japanese companies.
Other alleged mistreatment includes employers seizing the interns’ passports and bank cards, and holding onto some of their pay as “savings” to prevent them from running away.
Justice Ministry data meanwhile indicate that the mistreatment of apprentices has been rising in the past couple of years despite the legal revisions.
In 2012, 197 organizations and companies were found engaged in “unfair practices,” up 20.9 percent from the 163 cited in 2010.

The mistreatment mainly took the form of unpaid wages and labor law violations. Some apprentices, for example, were forced to work more than 100 hours per month of overtime. Any company caught, however, only faces a maximum five-year ban on using foreign trainees.
Jorge Bustamante, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants came to Japan on March 23, 2010, for an official inspection. Bustamante held a press conference on March 31, 2010 and outspokenly urged the Japanese government to terminate its program for overseas industrial trainees and technical interns, saying it might amount to “slavery” in some cases, fueling demand for exploitative cheap labor in violation of human rights. He proposed replacing the program with one of employment.

Working conditions and treatment of foreign workers in Japan
The situation of foreign works in Japan is greatly shaped by labor contracts and the customary brokerage system, structural frames that usually victimize foreign workers. The lack of knowledge of the Japanese situation and the language are often high obstacles that play against people from abroad coming to work in Japan.
Japanese labor leader, Torii Ippei, Secretary General of All Labor Trade Unions manifested publicly that “Foreign workers in Japan faced general labor problems, like unpaid wages, labor accidents, layoffs, etc. And, on top of that, in many instances their passports are taken away and they are forced to live under very bad conditions”.

Women migrant workers in Japan
The sex industry likes foreign workers for the same reason every other industry likes them: they’re cheaper and willing to do jobs few others are, says Takashi Kadokura, an economist with Dai Ichi Life Research Institute, who recently set the size of Japan’s “entertainment trade” at a staggering 2.37 trillion yen (2001).
Among the many groups of female workers, a large proportion of Filipino workers in Japan are young women. Back in 2005 about 37,235 young Filipinas received contracts to work in Japan. It is important to notice that there is no legal category for “domestic helpers” to work with Japanese families. According to the EPA economic agreement signed in September 2006, Japan agreed to accept large numbers of Filipina nurses and care givers. At present Vietnam and Indonesia are also included in the same EPA economic agreement.

“International marriages” where the foreign side is the wife are becoming customary in Japan. Often they do not last, and, in many cases, the main motivation is to obtain legal status. The difference in age is usually of 10 or 20 years; the Japanese side being much older. The children of migrant workers, although receiving compulsory education up to High School, have often to go through many traumas at home and are much more bullied at school than the ordinary Japanese child.

According to the mass media, the image ordinary Japanese people have of foreign workers is not very friendly. It is difficult to probe this objectively, since Japanese media does not report so often on the situation of foreign workers and does not take their side. On the other hand, the Japan Times that leads foreign media in Japan is an exception. It usually covers the issues of foreign workers with a critical attitude towards the authorities.

In Japan, the Catholic Church already has long experience in this field. The Church has been involved in many ways with foreign workers in the fields of welfare, legal, pastoral and educational. In fact, maybe even more than half of our Catholic population in the country consists of foreign workers coming from Brazil, Peru and other Latin American countries, as well as from the Philippines.

Private Educational Pilot Project for foreign workers
At the national level, Japan is doing less than enough to provide Japanese education to hundreds of thousands of foreigners working and living in Japan. It clearly shows the lack of a “migrant policy”. Certainly foreign workers and their children here are at a loss. The abundant Japanese private language schools are all very expensive for the economic possibilities of foreign workers’ families.
The Adachi International Academy -AIA- is a private Pilot Educational non-profit Project oriented to provide basic educational tools to children (6-15 years old) born to foreign parents, mostly migrant workers representing 15 nationalities, that live in the Adachi region, the outskirts of Tokyo.
AIA also assists adult migrant workers to get knowledge about the Japanese system, language and culture. The stress is on a person-to-person approach. The education is practically free to allow even the most needy workers’ families to get the basic tools to obtain solid compulsory public education and for adults to get better jobs.
AIA is run by experienced teachers and youth volunteers. In 2008, four Catholic religious congregations specialized in youth education decided to work together in this pilot project. If you visit AIA you might find a Filipina mother learning Japanese characters and her little baby next to her sleeping in a baby sitter while a volunteer teaches the mother Japanese, or maybe a father from Ghana learning how to read and write Japanese with three more adults of other nationalities late on Sunday morning. His three children will come in the afternoon for Japanese lessons, Mathematics or English. There are no lessons done with white or blackboards in classrooms. The stress is on a person-to-person approach, an education oriented to developing personalities, to making learning interesting, and to building a familiar atmosphere of trust in both adults and children. Quoting from the thinking of Brazilian psychologist educator, Paulo Freire, students become teachers and teachers learn also from their students. Children attending AIA talk freely and loudly in Japanese, with all kinds of strange accents, but these same children sit down passively for hours in the classrooms of public schools, obliged to attend compulsory education, without understanding their teachers.

An important side-effect of this pilot educational program is the involvement of young and senior volunteers. AIA offers people a place for human fulfillment and the possibilities to do something meaningful to others.
Without official support, all AIA expenses (rent, transportation costs of volunteers, scholarships for high school students in need, etc.) are met by supporting groups and donors.

AIA (Adachi International Academy)
5-11-17 Umeda, Adachi-ku, Tokyo 123-0858
Tel. 03-5888-5206 Fax. 03-5888-5216

Migrant Desk
Email address:

Migrant Workers in Japan (Part 1 of 2)

Ando Isamu SJ (Jesuit Social Center staff)

As long as there are nations there will be migrants.

Beginnings of the Movement of Foreign Workers to Japan
Migration in Japan cannot be described apart from the military annexation of Korea by Japan. Beginning in 1910, the dominant presence of Japan on the Korean Peninsula greatly increased. There were fewer than 1,000 Koreans in Japan in 1910 but their numbers increased to about 400,000 by the year 1930, and at the end of the Pacific War (1945) reached 2 million. Their hard life and work conditions, educational opportunities, and social treatment provide insights into the situation of today’s foreign workers in Japan.

As a result of the outbreak of the Korean War in 1951, many Koreans in Japan, unable to move to Korea, had to remain unwillingly in Japan. They lost their Japanese nationality and were left in situations of hardship. Taiwanese living in Japan at that time also faced similar problems.

The arrival of foreign workers to Japan after 1950
Workers from several Asian countries entered Japan in big numbers from the 1960s. They were young people with dreams of getting new and better lives. Most of them wanted to bring their families out of poverty and pay for the education of their brothers and sisters, to provide a better future at home, and to help their parents build better human households. Those young workers came to Japan with high hopes and content to be able to assist their dear ones. They could not do so in their own countries because there were no jobs available. Foreign workers had the courage to start an unknown difficult life in a country where they did not know the language, a country quite different from their own. It was a risky adventure, but Japan was rich with many possibilities of good remunerative jobs. They were happy and lucky because they were able to make it to Japan.

Many of those Asian workers coming to Japan in the 60s and 70s were young women from Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines. They were entertainers, or employed in the service field, etc. The way Japan’s gangster groups worked to attract young Asian girls to Japan created many social problems at the time.

Much as some might wish it otherwise, migration is a fact of life. So it is not a question of stopping migration but of managing it better and with more cooperation and understanding on all sides. Far from being a zero-sum game, migration can be made to yield benefits for all.

In Japan, Kyodo News reports that, according to a survey made by the Tokyo Council of Social Welfare, 30% of Tokyo’s 316 elderly care facilities, in which the majority (90%) of workers are women, employed a total of 196 foreign workers. Filipinas account for more than half of these foreign caregivers, followed by Chinese, Taiwanese, and South Koreans.

Speaking from experience, refugees and migrant workers often tell me that they cannot go back to their country of origin because of official repression and persecution. Their lives are in danger, as well as their families. Most migrant workers invoke the lack of jobs back home and the poverty awaiting them there without no possible income to survive decently. Public authorities in Japan turn deaf ears to such pleas. In fact, although we use the expression “migrants” in Japan, there is no concept here of an “immigrant.” Officially, there is no immigration policy like those in many other countries but rather only a control policy for dealing with “aliens.”

The Shaping of Japan’s Immigration Policy
Nevertheless, times have changed, maybe drastically, for Japan. The country is a forerunner in globalization. Up to now, Japan has opted for rigid restriction of foreign workers coming into the country. But business and Japanese multinationals experience the need to open doors to workers from outside in order to be able to compete and expand their activities. I believe that Japan’s official stance on the issue of migrant workers is different from the policies of Japanese businesses. That became clear around the year 2007, when the country officially opened the door to “Nikkeijin” with former roots in Japan from Latin American countries. Business pushed strongly for changes in immigration policies.

In fact, there are two main new phenomena obliging Japanese authorities to make some substantial changes in their perceptions with regard to the acceptance of foreign workers.

The first is the preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In the past, exactly 50 years ago on the occasion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the country observed a substantial economic-industrial recovery. The building of high-speed highways and the beginning of the Shinkansen Railways became symbols of strong economic development. Now, with the coming of the new 2020 Tokyo Olympics, people recall those “good old days” and expect a new strong economic recovery. Nevertheless, Japan does not have the workers needed to produce an economic “miracle” again. So even Prime Minister Abe has officially stated that Japan will accept 200,000 foreign workers annually.

The second phenomenon is even more realistic and urgent. Japan’s population is increasingly shrinking and the country is in need of a young labor force, which is impossible to find nowadays. Japan has decided to retain and augment its industrial powers and needs workers from outside to do that.
The projected decrease in Japan’s population has forced the country to think more positively about accepting foreign labor and improving the whole immigration system.

New Immigration Law (2012)
The Japan Immigration Law has been revised several times. In 1989, during the economic bubble period, as a result of the revision of the law, Nikkeijin mainly from Latin America were easily permitted to come to Japan to work. Around 400,000 Nikkeijin from Brazil and Peru were living and working in Japan by 2007. The new revision of the law in 2009 gave the Home Ministry absolute control over foreigners in the country. The alien registration card all foreigners had to have in the past was changed into a “residence card” with an IC chip, where all personal data, including residence address, visa status, etc. was included. Foreigners are obliged always to have it with them, with a penalty up to 200,000 yen if a person is found without it. Employers are also obliged to report in detail about the workers they employ, their domiciles, visa status, employment conditions, etc.

City halls (numbering 1,787) spread all over the country were formerly the offices in charge of officially handling many formalities in areas where foreigners were living, but they are not allowed to do so any more. Instead, immigration offices limited in number (76) do everything regarding foreigners. Those not reporting immediately on changes of address, marriage issues like divorce, changes of jobs, etc. are subject to penalties. In other words, Immigration enjoys total control now.

Immigration authorities estimate that in 2011 there were between 90,000 and 100,000 undocumented migrants in Japan, including 78,488 over-stayers. The number of over-stayers has been halved in the last five years. Most came from Asian countries: South Korea (19,271), China (10,337), Philippines (9,329), Taiwan (4,774), and Thailand (4,264).
Undocumented foreigners, if caught by police or by immigration officers, are taken into detention centers that are real jails.

Japan has three main immigration detention centers, in Ushiku (Ibaraki prefecture), Ibaraki (Osaka prefecture), and Omura (Nagasaki prefecture), plus other big temporary centers like the one in Shinagawa (Tokyo), where hundreds of foreigners are detained. Immigration has 8 regional bureaus, 7 district immigration offices, and 61 branch offices.

As of 2012, all regional bureaus, district immigration offices, and 1 branch office had detention facilities.
Lengthy detentions are also a major problem, as the book Kabe no Namida (Wall of Tears) points out, because even after deportation orders are issued for Immigration Law violators, these violators can continue to be held for an indefinite time.
According to an investigation by Kyodo News, 23 detainees at the centers attempted suicide between 2000 and 2004.

Present Foreign Population in Japan
Japan currently has about 2,220,000 registered foreigners. Of these, 660,000 (30%) are Chinese and 590,000 (27%) are resident Koreans.
Overseas residents in Japan (2013) (June 21, 2014)

Oversea residents in Japan2013

Foreign working population in Japan 2013

Sri Lankan man dies at Shinagawa detention center

A Sri Lankan man died while in detention at the Shinagawa Immigration Bureau last month after the guards apparently ignored his repeated complaints about severe chest pain, a supporters’ group said Monday.

The death of Nickeles Fernando, 57, comes amid allegations that critically ill detainees are being neglected by the immigration service. It also attests to a tendency to disregard the rights of foreign detainees, lawyers and activists said.

“His death illustrates the immigration’s outrageous belittlement of foreigners’ human rights,” said Takeshi Omachi, a representative of Provisional Release Association in Japan. “They probably don’t care if foreigners die on their watch.”

According to PRAJ and fellow detainees’ accounts, Fernando was found dead, face-down, in a solitary confinement cell at the immigration bureau in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward at around 1 p.m. on Nov. 22.

He had begun to complain of severe chest pains at around 7 a.m., begging a guard to take him to a doctor.

The guard refused, on the grounds that a medical facility inside the detention center was not open on Saturdays.

Immigration officials moved him to a solitary confinement cell at around 8 a.m., where Fernando groaned in pain for about an hour before falling silent near 9 a.m., the presumed time of death, fellow detainees told The Japan Times in a phone call last week. The inmates initiated the call.

By the time other inmates went to check on him, Fernando was dead, his body cold and showing signs of rigor mortis. He had been drooling and had urinated on the mattress, PRAJ quoted an inmate as saying.

A devout Christian, Fernando had tried to make the guard understand the severity of his pain, swearing on his pocket Bible in broken English that he was not lying.

Fernando was admitted to the immigration center on or around Nov. 17. Police still have custody of his body and are investigating the cause of death.

“He was like my father. I still can’t believe he’s gone,” Jeorge Fernando, 27, a nephew of the deceased, told reporters on Monday.

Several foreign individuals have died in recent years while in the clutches of the immigration service.

In October 2013, Rohingya detainee Anwar Hussin, 57, died of a brain hemorrhage in the Shinagawa Immigration Bureau after his pleas for a doctor went ignored for about 50 minutes.

In March this year, an Iranian man and a Cameroonian man died in separate incidents at a detention center in Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture. The Justice Ministry on Nov. 20 faulted authorities for not having medical personnel available around the clock. It vowed to boost staffing.

Fernando died two days later.

The Immigration Bureau rejects allegations of negligence.

“There was nothing improper in the way we handled his situation,” the bureau said in a statement on Monday.

“We call an ambulance if there is need to do so. It’s not correct to say we fail to take foreigners’ rights seriously,” it said.

by Tomohiro Osaki Staff Writer of JAPAN TIMES (Dec 1, 2014)

Accompanying People on the Move (Part 1 of 2)

Accompanying People on the Move

On 19 January 2014 around five thousand people took to the street of Hong Kong outside the police headquarters. They were members of Indonesian and Filipino migrant worker unions as well as representatives of various human rights groups in the country. With loud noise they demanded justice for Erwiana, an Indonesian maid abused by her Hong Kong employer. She was found covered in cuts and burns a week earlier at the airport just before leaving the country. Barely able to walk, she was left alone at the departure hall by her employer and agent at the early hours to avoid the airport crowds. Police and immigration officers who had seen her in that condition did not raise a finger to help let alone to investigate. A fellow Indonesian worker on her way home spotted and approached her. Finding out the full story, she contacted her friends in the union and before long the news went to the airwaves and drew huge responses from many corners.

This crime took place in Hong Kong committed allegedly by a local citizen, and the victim was an Indonesian young woman. Her recruitment and placement agency had representatives in both countries. The case drew the attention of other Indonesians in Hong Kong as well as Filipino migrant groups. A number of local activists and other expatriates took part in the campaign. A few days after the protest, the Hong Kong authorities arrested the alleged torturer at the airport as she tried to flee to Bangkok. Sad as it is, this is unmistakably a twenty first century tragedy which unfolded across geographical and political boundaries.

In 2010 the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) decided to take the issue of migration as a common priority in social actions. It rightly identified the phenomenon as a defining feature of our age which is characterized by the ease of travel and promises of prosperity, but also by their respective failings and dangers. The Society of Jesus in Asia Pacific unfortunately is far from prepared to respond to this challenge in a meaningful way. At the moment there are only five very different institutions that directly work on migrant issues: Tokyo Migrants’ Desk, Yiutsari in Seoul, UGAT Foundation in Manila, Rerum Novarum Centre in Taipei and Sahabat Insan in Jakarta. Migrant workers primarily and undocumented migrants are the target groups which reflect the kind of services these organisations offer. Indeed these are all small local institutions which offer specific services to specific types of migrants. They are in addition to the Jesuit Refugee Service which have been around much longer and serve refugees and asylum seekers.

Despite the small size, they are the real building blocks of our commitment to serve migrants. In response to the call to prioritise concerns for migration, the directors of these institutions had met several times over the course of the past three years and finally on June 3rd – 6th, 2014 in Jakarta to draft this proposal.

Participating Institutions in the JCAP Migrants Network
As mentioned before, five Jesuit institutions participate in the network as programme implementers. Two other institutions i.e. Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific and Jesuit Social Services Australia take part in the network as partners in information exchanges. Benny Juliawan SJ acts as the network coordinator and project director for the programmes.

①The term “migrant workers” in this proposal refers to people who travel to countries other than their own in search for work in the blue collar sectors. Internal migrant workers are exempt from this definition.

Amnesty International (2013) Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments: Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers Trafficked to Hong Kong, Geneva.
Devadason, Evelyn S. and Chan Wai Meng (2014) “Policies and Laws Regulating Migrant Workers in Malaysia: A Critical Appraisal,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 44: 1, 19-35.
ILO (2013) Domestic Workers across the World, Geneva: ILO.
Kennedy, Jason (2012) “Female Indonesian Domestic Workers in Taiwan” Seminar in Global Health and Development 2, Taipei Medical University.
Loveband, Anne (2004) “Positioning the Product: Indonesian Migrant Women Workers in Taiwan,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 34: 3, 336-348.

Accompanying People on the Move (Part 2 of 2)

Temporariness and Brokerage

Migration is a major political, economic, social and cultural concern in Asia Pacific. Countries in this region are major sources of migrants for the world. China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are among the world’s top 25 suppliers of migrants, with China and the Philippines in the top 10. Most of these go to other countries within Asia and to North America. Asia Pacific is also home to a large number of immigrants, with more than 10 million migrants, many of whom are from other countries within the region. Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand are among the top 25 countries in the world with the highest immigration rates. If internal migration is added to the picture, the number and proportion of migrants would increase greatly, especially in rapidly urbanizing countries like China and Vietnam.

The dominant driving force of migration has been economic. The bulk of migrants in Asia Pacific are transient workers taking up blue-collar jobs that are shunned by locals in developed and industrializing countries. The label “dirty, dangerous and difficult” has been coined to describe the work of migrants. Typical jobs include domestic workers, construction workers, plantation workers, factory workers, fishermen, heath care aids and hospitality workers. To illustrate, Asia Pacific is home to around 21.5 million domestic workers (ILO, 2013), which makes up about 41 percent of all domestic workers in the world today. According to official statistics the state of Sabah in Malaysia employs 272,157 foreign workers (2012), mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines in the oil palm industry. Overall registered migrant workers made up 21% of Malaysia’s workforce (2010), and this is not to include the irregular or undocumented migrant workers, which some estimates put the figure at around 1.3 million (Devadason and Meng, 2014). The focus group of this proposal refers to these workers who travel to countries other than their own in search for menial jobs.

Cross-border migration either in search for work or political asylum always carries extra risks associated with being a foreigner with limited means. For migrant workers in particular the vulnerabilities are multiplied these days by the general preference of capital movement over that of labour under globalisation. When countries do feel the need for foreign labour, they treat migrant workers as supplementary labour and subject them to “temporariness” regime. What it means is that the presence of migrant workers in general is assumed to be temporary to address labour shortages and they are not eligible for rights and provisions which otherwise would be available for citizens or permanent residents.

This does not apply to foreign professionals apparently. The Taiwan Council for Labour Affairs, for example, defines the role of “foreign professionals” as to enhance technological level and competitiveness, whereas “foreign labour” is to supplement shortages. Expatriates in Malaysia are allowed to bring in their families but contract migrant workers are not. South Korea does not even recognise domestic work as employment, and therefore foreign domestic workers are exempt from provisions sanctioned by the law. In fact, 61 per cent of all domestic workers in Asia and the Pacific are not covered by the country’s standard labour laws (ILO 2013). Hong Kong relies on a highly flexible labour regime in general, which applies to all workers but especially to migrant workers. Migrant domestic workers have to leave the country within two weeks after their contracts expire if they cannot find new employers. Indeed, temporariness regime is manifested in short or fixed term contracts and exclusion from labour laws.

Temporariness also plays into the hand of agents or middlemen both in sending and receiving countries. These include private agencies (legal and illegal) in host and sending countries as well as government officials in certain countries like Vietnam which play the middlemen role. Legislative frameworks to regulate this role have been limited. According to NGOs’ experience, a substantial portion of migrants’ problems originate in the actions of middlemen. These include provision of inadequate or false information, charging of exorbitant fees which cause the migrant to be in a debt-bonded situation, trafficking and outright deception.

The root cause of this inhumane activity can be found in the complexity of hiring processes. Recruiting and placing workers across state boundaries require a certain degree of knowledge and experience in dealing with paper works and state bureaucracies, two qualities that are often lacking in prospective migrants. Moreover, short-term contracts imply constant search for new job orders which again is often beyond the scope of domestic helpers with long working hours. It is therefore almost inevitable that they have to rely on middlemen. The problem is compounded by the regulative frameworks which deliberately avail agencies with a lot of power and limit the role of the state.

Agents have indeed become very powerful in the migration industry not only when dealing with workers but also in their bargaining with the state as the latter gradually loses its capacity to control the hiring and placement processes. The combination of these factors makes migrant workers all the more prone to exploitation along the process of migration: pre-migration, after migration, and when returning. In Taiwan, which has relatively better treatments of domestic workers, for example, many agents have switched from Filipino workers to Indonesian ones after the former were deemed more forceful in demanding their rights (Loveband, 2004). In doing this, they portray Indonesian workers as loyal, caring, capable of repetitive household chores, effectively manufacturing a stereotype which defines the kind of working condition that employers expect their maids will accept. This freedom to choose, however, is not applicable the other way around. Migrant domestic workers are not free to switch employers at will; such actions will incur penalties even if the reason is to do with treatments or working conditions.

Efforts to target this temporariness regime and the brokerage system will form the main collaborative work among the five migration institutions in JCAP. Given the modest state of these institutions the strategies centre around doing locally based research and activities that follow an agreed template. The compiled findings will then be the basis to create a platform for advocacy both at the local and regional levels. These strategies will also serve as a learning space in collaboration within the network. See the Annex for the description of the programmes.

Participating Institutions in the JCAP Migrants Network
As mentioned before, five Jesuit institutions participate in the network as programme implementers. Two other institutions i.e. Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific and Jesuit Social Services Australia take part in the network as partners in information exchanges. Benny Juliawan SJ acts as the network coordinator and project director for the programmes.

Labour law generally guarantees minimum wage, working hours, overtime pay, annual leave, fair termination of contract, benefits and workers’ compensations.
For example, in November 2013, the Amnesty International published a damning report on the treatment of migrant workers in Hong Kong in the hands of recruitment agencies and brokers.
In Taiwan as of 2012, 75 per cent of domestic workers are Indonesian, 12.5 per cent Filipino, 12.5 per cent Vietnamese, and 0.5 per cent Malaysian (Kennedy, 2012).

Amnesty International (2013) Exploited for Profit, Failed by Governments: Indonesian Migrant Domestic Workers Trafficked to Hong Kong, Geneva.
Devadason, Evelyn S. and Chan Wai Meng (2014) “Policies and Laws Regulating Migrant Workers in Malaysia: A Critical Appraisal,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 44: 1, 19-35.
ILO (2013) Domestic Workers across the World, Geneva: ILO.
Kennedy, Jason (2012) “Female Indonesian Domestic Workers in Taiwan” Seminar in Global Health and Development 2, Taipei Medical University.
Loveband, Anne (2004) “Positioning the Product: Indonesian Migrant Women Workers in Taiwan,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 34: 3, 336-348.

A Case Study: Domestic Workers in Asia Pacific

[Edited by Ando Isamu, SJ, from “A Brief Overview of Domestic Workers in Asia Pacific” (2013) by Benny Hari Juliawan, SJ]
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 178 / August 15th, 2014

A case study_Domestic Workers in Asia PacificAsia and the Pacific is home to around 21.5 million domestic workers (ILO, 2013), which makes up about 41 percent of all domestic workers in the world today. Nevertheless, the data on the two most populous countries in the region, India and China, seem particularly unreliable.

One thing that stands out about the figures above is the growth of domestic workers from 13.8 million in 1995 to the current figure of 21.5 million, making the region the largest employer of domestic workers. This increase tells a story of a region that is economically and socially very dynamic. For the purpose of this conference, this paper focuses on the Asia Pacific picture. In fact, by 2030 Asia Pacific’s middle class is estimated to be almost five times larger than Europe’s and ten times larger than North America’s (PwC, 2012).

The spending power of this class fuels the demand for domestic helpers. Many families now can afford to employ maids, nannies, nurses, drivers and gardeners. These jobs, however, are shunned by locals in the developed part of Asia and deemed dirty, difficult, and dangerous or “three Ds”. In place of them, domestic helpers come from the poverty pool in Asia, which consists of around 1.8 billion people (54 per cent of total population) living with under USD 2 per day (UN Habitat, 2010). In rich countries domestic helpers come from their less developed neighbours. Taiwan employed 200,000 foreign domestic workers in 2012, Hong Kong 300,000 for the same year, South Korea 163,000 (2008), Singapore 160,000 (2013), and Malaysia 300,000 (2006). Most of these workers come from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In Japan foreign domestic workers are allowed only for foreign families, not for Japanese families.

The Asia Pacific region is undergoing rapid urbanisation, with the proportion of Asia’s population rising from 31.5 per cent in 1990 to 42.2 per cent in 2010 (UN Habitat, 2010). In such urban settings, domestic helpers come from migrating rural population, who cannot find jobs in the formal economy, and instead become part of city’s reserved army of labour. Together they make up 505.5 million inhabitants of urban slums in Asia at the moment.

In short, domestic work in Asia and the Pacific is heavily characterised by migration both across country boundaries and across rural-urban divide. These workers primarily supplement shortages of labour in rich countries and fill in the increasing demand for domestic helpers in urban areas.

As the explanation at the beginning of this paper states, domestic work is often not registered in official statistics. This fact reflects the vulnerability of this type of work especially in terms of legal recognition and protection. In rich countries, migrant domestic workers with low skills are seen as supplementary labour and subject to what is called “temporariness” regime. What it means is that the presence of migrant workers in general is assumed to be temporary and they are not elligible for rights and provisions which otherwise would be available for citizens or permanent residents.

South Korea does not even recognise domestic work as employment, and therefore foreign domestic workers are exempt from provisions sanctioned by the law. In fact, 61 per cent of all domestic workers in Asia and the Pacific are not covered by the country’s standard labour laws (ILO 2013). Hong Kong is an exception in this regard because it recognises all workers equally and allow them to enjoy full statutory labour rights and benefits as local workers. Migrant domestic workers have to leave the country within two weeks after their contracts expire if they cannot find new employers. Indeed, temporariness regime is manifested in short or fixed term contracts and exclusion from labour laws.

Temporariness also plays into the hand of agents or middlemen both in sending and receiving countries. Many reports have pointed out the exploitation of migrant workers in the hands of unscrupulous agents and people smugglers. The root cause of this inhumane activity can be found in the complexity of hiring processes. Recruiting and placing workers across state boundaries require a certain degree of knowledge and experience in dealing with paper works and state bureaucracies, two qualities that are often lacking in prospective migrants. Short-term contracts imply constant search for new job orders which again is often beyond the scope of domestic helpers with long working hours. It is therefore almost inevitable that they have to rely on agents; in addition, most sending states, although they actively encourage migrant workers to go abroad, have withdrawn from this role and leave it to agents.

In the less developed countries of Asia, the supply of domestic workers have long relied on extended family networks or other means outside the formal employment scheme.

Workers Agency and Civil Society
But does the picture of helpless victims represent the only story of domestic workers in Asia Pacific? Surely not. Foreign or migrant domestic workers in prosperous Asian countries have not all been quiet and submissive. They have started to organise and form unions wherever possible.

The most successful example takes place in Hong Kong, for example, the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU), the Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (ATKI), Unifil (United Filipinos in Hong Kong) command committed members, and are politically active (Constable, 2009). They form alliances with local unions and NGOs in campaigning for better payment, working conditions, and other social justice issues such as globalisation.

Another side to this story is the social and spatial mobility that many female domestic workers experience. Domestic work has long been part of familial duty, and women shoulder most of the burden of this duty. Growing prosperity means that household labour in one’s own home now turns into paid domestic work in someone else’s home. Women sell their domestic labour in the market whether it is at home in urban areas or abroad. “Housewives in home countries become breadwinners by doing domestic work overseas”

In several countries, the response of the church to domestic workers issues is quite well recognised with good standing, notably in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Religious congregations in the region have also paid attention to the plight of domestic workers although under the slightly broader theme of anti-human trafficking.)

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.)


Abu-Bakr Awudu Suraj was a man from Ghana who spent 20 months in an Immigration detention center (The 700-inmate Higashi-Nihon Immigration Center in Ibaraki Prefecture), before being manhandled onto a jetliner at Narita airport for deportation back to Ghana in March 2010.

He died in handcuffs on the plane. Immigration authorities allegedly used “excessive force” to restrain him.

Authorities have a right to hold foreigners, like Suraj, who violate immigration law. And what happens to them once they are locked up is for many a mystery. It became a legal litigation.

 And again on March 28, 2014 an Iranian prisoner at the same Ushiku immigration jail (Ibaraki Province) died after meal. Just two days later, on March 30, another prisoner from Cameroon passed away.

 Due to the fact that the circumstances of their death are difficult to assess, Tokyo Bar Association has launched an investigation on these strange cases. Lawyers’ representative, Takanaka Masahiko made a public statement on 23 April criticizing the handling of sick prisoners at immigration jails in Japan.

 According to the information given by immigration authorities the Iranian inmate being unable to breathe after the meal lost consciousness and was transported to the hospital where he died the next day. Two days later, the prisoner from Cameroon complained about suffering from illness. The medical doctor did not diagnosed a serious critical illness, but after sending him back to the jail cell they found him there unconscious and died in the way to the hospital.

Every year an inspection committee of immigration centers’ facilities had repeatedly reported on the lack of enough medical assistance to prisoners in immigration jails and the UN Committee for the abolition of torture has already shown concern about the medical facilities at the Ushiku center where both inmates passed away.

In spite of the remarks provided by different groups from inside and outside Japan, it is regrettable that the medical assistance was not improved and the death of 2 inmates in such a short time of only 2 days could not be prevented by proper medical assistance. There is no doubt that the responsibility of the immigration center and the officials of the Ministry of Justice are to be investigated.

The authorities of the center have the duty of looking after the health of the inmates and reasons must be provided for not accomplishing that duty. On the other hand, the Justice Ministry should urgently give an honest explanation of the facts concerning the death of both inmates to their kinship.

As a matter of fact, there should be a thorough investigation to prevent similar tragedies in the future and to improve the medical services in immigration jails by the already established inspection committee of immigration centers’ facilities or, preferably, by a new third party organization. Immigration authorities should disclose all pertinent data materials to the investigators.

The restriction of the freedom of the inmates and the limitation of their physical conditions should follow the regulations of international law. The above cases question immigration Japanese policies.

(Translated and edited, by Fr. Ando Isamu S.J., taken from the Japanese statement of Tokyo’s Bar Association) (2014/05/02)

WORK for migrants and refugees

In the September 2013 issue of the Forced Migration Review of the Refugee Studies Centre of the University of Oxford there is a detailed global study on “Detention, alternatives to detention, and deportation”, worthy to be studied carefully. Page 92 deals with the “refugees’ right to work”. The following sentence caught my eyes: “Host economies benefit when refugees work. Nations seeking economic growth and political stability should allow refugees to access employment and to enjoy employment-related rights”.

Our Tokyo social center has a long experience in dealing with refugees’ issues and migrant workers, especially in Japan. We run free legal consultations together with lawyers. One of the most common issues we are confronted with is job seeking, employment. When a foreigner applies for refugee status here usually immigration provides him/her with a one-month visa and when a foreign worker without proper documentation surrounds to immigration receives a one-month “provisional release” document. In both cases there is always a condition attached to it: “It is illegal to work” or you cannot work. But, how can a person survive without work in such highly expensive society? Homeless people here going to soup kitchens will tell you “I’ll not be coming here if I had work”.

To offer an example: Mr. VV is a young Vietnamese living in Japan for more than 10 years. He applied for refugee status over 3 years ago and is married to a lady who holds a 3year long term visa. Mr. VV holds only, since 3 years ago, a one-month “provisional release” document he must renew every month going to immigration. He is not allowed to work since then.

Moreover, according to the new immigration law, that came into implementation about a year ago, all employers in Japan are obliged, under financial penalty to report to immigration on all foreigners employed by them with their personal data, like names, residence, legal status, etc.

Last Sunday, Pope Francisco visited the Italian island of Sardinia where many people are without work, unemployed. He listened to them and called on them to have courage while expressing his solidarity with them in their struggle to work.

Then he expressed it bluntly WHERE THERE IS NO WORK, THERE IS NO DIGNITY “This is not a problem solely in Sardinia… or only of Italy, it is the consequence of a worldwide choice, an economic system that leads to this tragedy, an economic system that has at its center the idol of money.” Men and women and not money should be at the center of the world. (For more details see Vatican ZENIT’s webpage)

[Edited by Ando Isamu, SJ from Tokyo Jesuit Social Center]

WORLD PASSPORT / Hope for the Stateless?

A few days ago the telephone of the Jesuit social center rung and I took the phone. The person in the other side of the telephone line was a young man to whom we had provided 2 years ago legal assistance through one of the lawyers we work with. His voice was cheerful, “I have received a World Passport” he said. “What do you mean by that?” I answered.

The young fellow seemed a little excited and I arranged a meeting with him. Yesterday he brought his brand new “World Passport” with several documents to our center migrants’ section. It was the first time I had such a passport in my hands. There is no much difference with other normal passports, except that the issuing authority is not a country (official) but the World Service Authority (WSA) based in Washington DC, where it is legally registered.

The young fellow applied several times for refugee status in Japan but his application has been rejected and he was put in immigration jail for a year. He was finally released from jail and since November 2006 is living in Japan with a “provisional release permit” for 7 years (!!). In other words, he needs to renew the permit each month in Shinagawa (Tokyo). In fact, a year ago married a lady with a long term visa in Japan but that did not change his status. What to do next?

A Passport used mainly by Refugees and Stateless Persons
WSA is a global human rights authority without official connections with any national government and the passports it issues are seldom recognized by most governments. Nevertheless it claims that has issued more than 10,000 gratis World Passports to refugees of camps around the world and that through the acquisition of them refugees are permitted to seek asylum elsewhere. In fact, the reality is that many countries do not accept them.

In issuing the World Passports WSA stresses that their fundamental basis rests on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations (10 December 1948). Article 13 states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”. On the other hand, since the passport is the personal property of the person to whom it is issued cannot be taken away by officials. The right to personal property is sanctioned by Article 17 of the UN Declaration.

WSA claims to have issued hundreds of thousands of World Passports to refugees and no matter the problems faced to obtain visas many have been saved by them and could find freedom. Individuals held in arrest due to lack of valid (or any) identity papers were sometimes released after receiving World Passports. A later world known case is Edward Snowden, CIA whistle blower who leaked details of several top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. He was issued a World Passport by the WSA while being stuck in the Moscow International Airport. And Julian Assange, founder of Wiki Leaks, was sent an honorary World Passport by Garry Davis (WSA World Coordinator) while in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012.

(August 19th, 2013, by Ando Isamu, Migrant desk, Jesuit Social Center)
Further information can be obtained via internet at


The first week of July has witnessed 2 contrasting important news. The first one shows how the Japanese government deals with foreign immigrant workers that have remained “illegal” in the country and were sent to immigration jails. Mass media has just reported that a few days ago the Japanese government chartered a special plane to deport 70 Filipinos overstayers kept in immigration jails to the Philippines.

This is the result of a well-planned policy backed by an official budget of 30 Million Yen allocated this year to deport a certain number of “illegal” immigrants. The official claim is that there were 62,000 foreign workers living illegally in Japan as of January and the government is decided to look for them and expel them from the country, no matter the way to do it. And as far as I know there has been no major public reaction against such move.

In contrast to this, in the other side of the world the newly appointed Head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francisco, made an official visit to the Italian island of Ampelusa to meet with thousands of immigrants from Africa, many of whom died at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death. In the public mass in Ampelusa he made clear the position of the Catholic Church with regard to immigrants.

“I want to say a word of heartfelt gratitude and encouragement to you, the people of Lampedusa and Linosa, and to the various associations, volunteers and security personnel who continue to attend to the needs of people journeying towards a better future.

How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.

These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance fail to find solidarity.

The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!

We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – “suffering with” others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!”

I strongly felt that we are two worlds apart! (by Ando Isamu,S.J.)


R. Deiters SJ
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 169 / February 15th, 2013

In Tokyo nowadays it is not unusual to hear Chinese spoken in the trains and over the speakers in Akihabara stores. At least one out of every hundred people in Tokyo is a recent Chinese immigrant from the PRC (“mainland China”). Since about 1980, after policy changes following the death of Mao Zedong (d.1976), the number of Chinese coming to Japan has steadily increased so that now they are the most numerous of any one nationality–close to 30%– among all foreigners in Japan.

Why do they come? To better their life. Many are admitted to study, first in a language school, then in a university or technical school, but usually with the hope of working–even part-time while studying, and then getting a more permanent job in Japan later. Some women gain entry into Japan as wives of Japanese, often in a “paper” marriage arranged by a broker Up until about 2005, when the police began a largely successful campaign to arrest and deport illegal residents, some had overstayed their visa in order to gain enough money for the future of their family or to launch a business after going back to China.

Are many of them Catholic? After much suffering and turmoil from the founding of the PRC (1949) until about 1980, the Catholic Church, as well as each of the other four recognized religions, is now free to have open churches and carry on all kinds of religious activity, but under close supervision of the government through the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). A considerable number of bishops, priests, and believers do not follow the directives of the CCPA, and carry on church activities without official approval. They are the so-called “underground Church” community to which perhaps as many as 35% adhere

In China, the estimated number of all Catholics is 12,000,000–about 1% of the total population. Because seminaries and Sisters training programs were suppressed from about 1950 to 1980, most of the bishops, priests, and Sisters are under 45 with only a few over 80 who were ordained before the 1950’s. Many of the faithful are also young. It is a very young Church, but a Church without experienced senior leaders aged 50 to 80. In recent years, several hundreds of young priests and Sisters have done advanced studies in theology and pastoral fields in Europe and the U.S.A. with the help of Church organizations.

From the early 1950’s the government set up for all religions the “Three-Self” policy: self propagation, self administration, and self support. In practice this means that only PRC citizens may engage in evangelization and pastoral work; all officials (bishops, priests, Sisters) in the Church must be citizens of the PRC; and the Church is to be supported from within China. Each religion must form a semi-government organization, for Catholics, the CCPA, to supervise the execution of government policy The government does not, in principle, recognize the right of the Pope, a foreign, non-Chinese entity, to nominate bishops. Often the candidate proposed by the CCPA for bishop is accepted also by the Pope, and so the bishop can be both validly ordained and acceptable to the government. However, sometimes the Pope, finding the candidate unacceptable, requests the priest to withdraw. However, the priest under pressure from the CCPA accepts to be ordained illicitly, in violation of church law. Also, bishops who are to give the ordination or take part in such a ceremony may also be pressured by the government in various ways (bribes, blandishment, or threats) to take part in an illicit ordination. The result, however, is confusion, because such a bishop is, by church law excommunicated and without valid jurisdiction over the priests and faithful. Among more than 100 bishops, such illicitly ordained bishops are not many, but in those areas where the local bishop has been illicitly ordained, the priests, Sisters and believers are left without guidance, and confusion results.

At the request of some Chinese Catholics in Tokyo in 1987, a monthly Mass for Chinese began on the campus of Sophia University, and in 1991 the Jesuit Catholic Center was launched in an old dormitory in Nakano Ward. In 2001, the pastor and faithful of Ueno Catholic Church offered to form an integrated community with the Chinese Catholics and provide office and activity space. Now every Sunday at 1:30 pm in Ueno Church, there is a Mass in Chinese, and the Sacraments are provided. Fr. Inoue Kiyoshi, the Director., assisted by Frs. R. Deiters, S. Yamaoka, Fr. Yang of Kichijoji parish, and by several bi-lingual staff members. The Center is part of Ueno parish under the pastor Fr. Nishikawa.

For most of the Catholics we meet in Tokyo, while they are in Japan, these problems of the ordination of bishops do not directly concern them, and so they practice their faith freely, and enjoy coming to the Jesuit China Center on Sunday where they can meet friends of the same faith, language, and homeland. A large number are from the same region of Fujian Province, and are connected by family or mutual friendships.

Usually about 150 attend Sunday Mass. On big feast days such as Christmas or Easter, the Mass is celebrated by the Japanese and Chinese together, with Scripture reading and sermon, as well as singing in both languages. At such times, Ueno Church is packed with many standing. The Chinese consider themselves one with the Japanese faithful, taking part in the planning of the liturgy as well as the cleaning, decoration, and maintenance of the church facilities. We consider our Ueno Church community to be one example of an integrated community of Japanese and immigrant Catholics.


Ando Isamu, SJ

The increase of the aging population in Japan has created a new social situation in the country. Japan has not adopted an immigration policy but needs a labor force in such a field that is not popular among the Japanese youth. Since within a few years tens of thousands of nurses and caregivers will be needed in the country Japan started to look for possible candidates in several Asian countries, like Indonesia and the Philippines.

Since 2009, about 240 nurses and 400 caregivers came to Japan from the Philippines, by groups and were supposed to have been trained in their own country before landing in Japan. The final result has been not encouraging at all. As of now (Year 2013) only 15 nurses and one caregiver have passed the license examination. The fact is that those groups coming to Japan from Indonesia have experienced the same results.

From the “demand” side Japan needs and wants foreign nurses to help assist its old-age people. On the other hand, the Philippines should be able to “supply” nurses and offers them abundantly. The match should work but the reality is different. Media reports sometimes the automatic return of sometimes over a hundred candidates that were unable to pass the license examinations, disappointed by the unfair requirements imposed on them.

The situation is complex and has problems at both sides. Naturally cultural differences and the difficulties of the Japanese language play a big role in disappointments.

Nevertheless, Japan bears most of the responsibility. Since there is no comprehensive immigration policy there is a lack of official support, further Japanese language studies are expensive and limited and those coming to Japan feel that organizations involved, Japanese employers and the co-workers are unable to understand them. These are to be added to the inner difficulties in their daily jobs.

On the other hand, those coming to Japan to get their licenses as nurses and caregivers lack sometimes the training needed to work in Japan and adjust to the Japanese health care system and practices. The Philippine side also needs to understand Japanese culture and customs, often quite different from the multicultural Filipino system.

In consequence, both sides should make more efforts to cooperate and conduct joint training. Japan with an increasing aging population should take the initiative to attract young Filipinos nurses and caregivers to work in Japan.

BOOK REVIEW “Visiting Refugees” Yamamura Junpei, Gendai Kikaku Shitsu (2000)

Koyama Hideyuki, SJ
Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 165 / June 15th, 2012

Mr. Yamamura, a medical doctor that treats refugees free of charge in a clinic of Yokohama is the author of this book. He has been attending refugees and victims of natural disasters in various countries and as a member of a team for refugees of Amnesty International participates in seminars and symposia concerning refugee issues. He also actively assists refugees jailed in Ushiku’s immigration prison in Ibaraki prefecture. (Those interested please check the web of Amnesty International)

One of his edited books, “Kabe no Namida” also published by Gendai Kikaku Shitsu (2007), is a live report of the situation of foreigners jailed in Ushiku.

When the volcano Pinatsubo (Philippines) erupted in 1991 killing thousands of residents, doctor Yamamura was sent to a shelter camp to assist medically hundreds of victims there. It was his first medical mission abroad. He says “Whenever a social accident happens the ones to suffer most are the socially weak people, like minority groups, women and children. I really experienced that when I met with an extremely thin girl. They are treated as people that cannot be seen, outcasts and persons alienated from the system. As a result, they become easily sick but since they are not able to receive treatment their bodies are eaten away due to a continuous cycle of diseases. The main causes are poverty or rather the mal-distributed wealth and discrimination. I became aware that social structures play a strong role in all such situations”.

 Mr. Yamamura brings to light a series of basic questioning regarding development assistance out of his rich experiences in the Philippines, Burma, Rwanda, Zaire and Afghanistan. Can people be saved by medical care? How can we rescue people? In the first place, what is assistance about? In case of natural disasters what is that that really occasions damage? What is race about? Why is it that people become refugees? What is national violence about?

Mr. Yamamura came back to Japan and started to examine foreigners as well as those in immigration jail. His book crystallizes his experiences attending refugees and other foreigners, like persons from Afghanistan, Iran, Burmese and Kurds. The book portraits Japanese social structures, and refugees created by modern society. Those interested in racial issues and realities of refugees should read the book.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Refugees in Japan

Koyama Hideyuki, SJ (FRJ Board member, Global Concern Institute of Sophia University)

Social and Pastoral Bulletin issue: No. 163 / February 15th, 2012

During the very severe Italian winter of 1538, Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, and his first companions opened the doors of their headquarters in Rome to shelter the many refugees and sick people that were looking looked for asylum as a result of hunger and disease. Ignatius and the companions begged for food supplies and firewood to take care of these homeless people. In one year they provided for more than 3,000 refugees.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) was founded as a work of the Society of Jesus in November 1980 by Fr Pedro Arrupe, then Superior General. JRS was officially registered as a foundation in Vatican City on March 19, 2000.

JRS programs are found in 51 countries around the world, providing assistance to: refugees in camps and cities, individuals displaced within their own countries, asylum seekers in cities, and those held in detention centers. The main areas of work are in the fields of education, emergency assistance, healthcare, livelihood activities and social services. At the end of 2010, more than 500,000 individuals could be counted as direct beneficiaries of JRS projects.

More than 1,400 workers contribute to the work of JRS. Many of these work on a voluntary basis, including about 78 Jesuits and 66 religious from other congregations. In 2010 the Global Concerns Institute of Sophia University paid a visit to the JRS refugee Kakuma camp in Kenya, where JRS conducts various programs, like Counseling, Mental Health, Safe Haven and Education.

Former Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach expressed his recognition of JRS work for refugees around the world in the following way:
“JRS plants a seed of hope in the aridness of refugee camps, where people’s future is so often in jeopardy. This is particularly the case for young refugees in despair who are unable to gain access to education. Day after day, year after year, they see their lives becoming more and more hopeless.

“It is especially in these camps that JRS becomes an urgent service of hope for refugees. Hope increases when we help refugees have faith in themselves and in their future. It increases when love is shown in deeds of education and vocational training which transform past and present hatred into life with the wisdom which enables reconciliation and offers them the hope of a different future.”

Koyama (on the left)at JRS refugee Kakuma camp in Kenya 2010

Convention on Refugees

The Convention on Refugees was approved by the General Assembly of the UN in 1951. Japan joined it thirty years later. According to the Convention, a refugee is “a person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” Nevertheless, the pre-history of the Convention goes back to the Holocaust of World War II, when protection was offered to people fleeing persecution under communist regimes. Nowadays the situation of the refugees has changed and new challenges have occurred. The definition must be broadened to protect those who have to leave their land due to economic policy failures, national collapse, natural disasters, and the increase of urban refugees. It is a pity that national borders around the world have been closed and hostility towards unknown persons is on the increase.

Japan’s Recognition of Refugees

After the Vietnam War, from 1978 to 2005, Japan accepted 11,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Nevertheless, only 577 out of 9,887 applicants were qualified as refugees according to the Convention.

In the year 2010, immigration authorities released the following figures: 1,202 persons (342 Burmese, 171 Sri Lankans, 126 Turks, 109 Nepalese, 91 Indians and 363 from other countries) applied for refugee status, but only 39, mostly from Burma, had been accepted. Compared with the previous year it was only an increase of 9. Thirteen have objected to the official decision and another 363, mainly from Myanmar, have been given temporary visas for humanitarian reasons. Compared with Western countries (19,800 persons for the USA, 11,154 for Canada, 9,693 for England, 8,115 for Germany, 7,924 for France, and 2,230 for Italy), Japan’s acceptance of refugees is quite low.

In the year 2010, the Japanese government started a pilot program which accepts refugees resident in a third country, like the acceptance of 27 Burmese from 5 refugee families and 26 more from other 6 families in 2011 living in the Mera refugee camp of Thailand. This program is a step forward but has many shortcomings. According to the Mainichi Newspaper (2012/1/14), two of these refugee families moved to a farm in Chiba Prefecture but, due to misunderstandings with the rural host family, went to live permanently in Tokyo.

Forum for Refugees Japan (FRJ)

The Migrant Desk at the Jesuit Social Center in Tokyo offers free legal consultations, besides supporting the Adachi International Academy. Nevertheless, a need was felt to expand its services to defend the rights of refugees living in Japan and provide assistance through the “Forum for Refugees Japan” (FRJ) network. Thus, two years ago we joined FRJ.

Japan’s Ministry of Justice, feeling the need to cooperate with citizens’ groups giving assistance to refugees, has started a concrete revision of its policies concerning refugee status requirements, immigration jails, resident permits and self-support and, as a result of recognizing its limitations, conducts normal discussions with the members of FRJ.

As a concrete example, 4 Burmese refugees who received provisional relief permits at Narita airport were accepted by the Japan Association for Refugees in Yotsuya. The Catholic Tokyo International Center provided lodging, clothing, and daily services as needed. Further, a Sisters’ Congregation now holds Japanese language courses for them.

I hope that, thanks to such private efforts, compulsory detention of refugees can be commuted. The Jesuit Social Center continues its relationship with JRS and its cooperation with the Forum for Refugees Japan. Added to this, last year I inaugurated a group of students called “Sophia Refugee Service.” My aim is to engage university students in concrete activities for refugees.

Immigration Detention Japan

By Ando Isamu, SJ (Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo)

October 14th 2011, a special Workshop took place in Tokyo concerning the issue of immigration  detention centers in Japan. The organizers were the Forum for Refugees Japan (FRJ).

The Jesuit social center Migrant Desk also collaborated with FRJ and provided the facilities to hold the 1-day workshop. About 35 people, representing 14 groups linked to the network of FRJ, participated. During the morning inputs, Mr. Daniel A. UNHCR representative in Japan and 3 key members of International Detention Coalition (IDC) provided important information on the issue of immigration detention. The director of International Detention Coalition, Mr. Grant Mitchel drawing on a number of international examples outlined a new approach to alternatives to detention named as ‘Community Assessment and Placement (CAP) model. The idea is how to enforce immigration law by using mechanisms that do not rely heavily on detention. That is meant to give response to irregular migrants and asylum seekers. The experiences of Australia and Hong Kong, where UNHCR, NGOs and government act at unison and a controversial plan of the South Korean government to build new facilities for asylum seekers in an isolated island, criticized by NGOs, were also presented.

The whole afternoon of the workshop was a live exercise in 4 different working groups with regard to the realities of asylum seekers in Japan. The sessions were short and a number of themes were gradually provided by the facilitator, Mr. Grant Mitchel of IDC.

At the end, there was little time left to discuss the action programs, and hopefully FRJ will continue the follow up work at their normal meetings.

This workshop was the first one to take place in Japan (?) and the atmosphere was very good and the content was fruitful. One of the main messages was the need for collaboration not only among NGOs, but also with officials and UNHCR. No matter different approaches, to prevent unnecessary immigration detention is, certainly, a common issue. With regard to the participating NGOs it was not clear whether they referred only to asylum seekers (refugees) or they also included irregular migrants.

Those interested could visit IDC URL

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 []