Ja­pan OKs di­vi­sive bill al­low­ing more for­eign work­ers

Sun.Star Pampanga - - WORLD! -

TOKYO — Ja­panese law­mak­ers early Satur­day ap­proved gov­ern­ment-pro­posed leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of for­eign laborers to live and work in a coun­try that has long re­sisted ac­cept­ing out­siders.

The con­tentious leg­is­la­tion passed only months af­ter Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe pro­posed the plan de­spite op­po­si­tion groups’de­mand for more thor­ough de­bate to ad­dress con­cerns about a dras­tic change of pol­icy.

It’s seen as an un­avoid­able step as the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion of about 126 mil­lion rapidly ages and shrinks. Many short-handed in­dus­tries, es­pe­cially in the ser­vices sec­tor, al­ready rely heav­ily on for­eign “trainees” and lan­guage stu­dents. Ja­pan also se­lec­tively grants visas to white-col­lar pro­fes­sion­als, of­ten from the West.

Bring­ing in for­eign laborers is a last re­sort af­ter Abe’s deeply con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment tried to meet la­bor short­ages by en­cour­ag­ing more em­ploy­ment of women and older work­ers and us­ing more robots and other au­to­ma­tion.

“Ja­pan has come to a point where we had to face the re­al­ity that there is se­ri­ous de­pop­u­la­tion and se­ri­ous ag­ing,” said Toshi­hiro Menju, an ex­pert on for­eign la­bor and pop­u­la­tion is­sues at the Ja­pan Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Ex­change.

“Short­ages of work­ers are so se­ri­ous ... that (al­low­ing) im­mi­grants is the only op­tion the gov­ern­ment can take,” he said.

Abe’s lat­est plan calls for re­lax­ing Ja­pan’s visa re­quire­ments in sec­tors fac­ing se­vere la­bor short­ages such as con­struc­tion, nurs­ing, farm­ing, trans­port and tourism — new cat­e­gories of jobs to be added to the cur­rent list of highly skilled pro­fes­sion­als.

The num­ber of for­eign work­ers in Ja­pan has more than dou­bled since 2000 to nearly 1.3 mil­lion last year, out of a work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion of 67 mil­lion. Work­ers from de­vel­op­ing Asian coun­tries used to stay mostly be­hind the scenes, but not any­more. Al­most all con­ve­nience stores are partly staffed by Asian work­ers and so are many res­tau­rant chains.

The fastest grow­ing group of for­eign work­ers is Viet­namese, many of whom are em­ployed in con­struc­tion and nurs­ing. Con­struc­tion work­ers are par­tic­u­larly in de­mand as Ja­pan rushes to fin­ish build­ing venues and other in­fra­struc­ture for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In many cases the work­ers are sub­jected to poor work­ing con­di­tions and other abuses.

“I had no time for a hol­i­day . ... Even if I worked so hard I still had no money,” said Eng Pisey, 33, from Cam­bo­dia, who came to Ja­pan on a train­ing pro­gram in 2016 and worked at a gar­ment fac­tory in Tochigi, north of Tokyo. She said she had to bor­row $4,000 to pay a bro­ker to ar­range her job, and ended up quit­ting af­ter be­com­ing ill from over­work.

Un­der the leg­is­la­tion, two cat­e­gories of work­ers will be ac­cepted be­gin­ning in April: less-skilled work­ers and for­mer in­terns with ba­sic Ja­panese com­pe­tency are al­lowed to stay in the coun­try for only up to five years as vis­i­tors and can­not bring in fam­ily mem­bers. That is meant to en­cour­age them to leave when their visas ex­pire, pre­vent­ing them from set­tling in Ja­pan.

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