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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 April 24 - May 7  > New visa system launched without adequate preparations to accept more foreign workers
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2019 April 24 - May 7 [LABOR]
editorial 

New visa system launched without adequate preparations to accept more foreign workers

April 26, 2019
Akahata editorial (excerpts)

The revised Immigration Control Act which expands the acceptance of foreigners wishing to work in Japan came into force this month. Criticized for allowing the use of foreign workers as cheap labor and as the “control valve” for reducing or increasing employment, the law created much controversy in last year’s Diet deliberations. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister Abe Shinzo-led government bulldozed through the enactment of the law after only a short time for discussion. As the revised law does not include a system for properly protecting foreign workers’ human rights, dignity, and working conditions, concerns are growing. Although the government has insisted that necessary preparations would be completed before the implementation of the law, the preparations fell behind schedule. The use of stop-gap measures just to accept more foreign workers will cause serious problems in the future.

The revised immigration law is mainly aimed at introducing a new “Specified Skills” working visa program for the purpose of bringing in more foreign workers to industries struggling with labor shortages. Under the program, the “Specified Skills” visa is classified into two types, Type 1 and Type 2, according to eligibility requirements such as skill level. The Type 1 visa is granted to foreign workers having a “certain level of skills and knowledge”. Type 1 visa holders can stay in Japan for up to five years but are not permitted to have their family members accompany them. Type 2 visa holders whose skill level is higher than that of Type 1 visa holders can renew their visas indefinitely and have their spouses and children accompany them.

The government estimates that about 345,000 workers from abroad will be employed in 14 targeted industries, including the nursing-care, restaurant, and construction industries and services. However, this estimate is dubious.

The foreign trainee and internship program, which is often criticized as a hot bed of exploitative labor practices, continues to exploit foreign workers. The government, at the end of March before the enforcement of the amended immigration act, released the results of a survey which was conducted between 2012 and 2017 regarding the operation of the foreign trainee program. According to the survey results, about 15% of 5,218 runaway foreign trainees experienced labor law violations such as violations of rules on minimum wages and overtime. In addition, the number of missing foreign trainees, whose cases were excluded from the judgement on the illegality of their users’ labor practices due to insufficient materials, totals more than 2,000. This shows that the government survey is full of flaws. The survey results also revealed the deaths of 171 foreign trainees.

The Abe government claims that the application of “Specified Skills” visas will be filed mostly by the foreign trainees themselves. However, the provision of multilanguage consultation services depends on local governments' conditions. Measures to eliminate the presence of brokers exploiting foreign workers are insufficient. The promotion of the acceptance of foreign workers without solving these problems will only lead to further problems.

Past related articles:
> Another 43 deaths of foreign trainees detected in new report [March 30, 2019]
> JCP Fujino: New residence status lacks protection of foreign workers’ human rights [March 14, 2019]
> Gov’t proposal for legal changes will expose foreign workers to human rights violations: JCP Fujino [November 14, 2018]
> Foreign trainees testify about harsh working conditions to opposition party Dietmembers [November 9, 2018]
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