November 29, 2018 – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the plenary session of the House of Councillors to pass a bill on immigration system revisions to accept more foreign workers to ease labor shortages in Japan.
Abe reiterated his position that the changes to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act be implemented in April next year.
“There are more job offers than job seekers in every prefecture, and we must tackle the serious labor shortage right now,” Abe said. “The new (immigration) system must be implemented quickly.” The government and ruling bloc wants to pass the bill during the current extraordinary session of the Diet which ends on Dec. 10.
Opposition lawmakers have attacked the government-sponsored bill as “lacking substance,” as Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan legislator Michihiro Ishibashi put it. The opposition camp tried but failed to continue deliberations on the bill in the House of Representatives, and the ruling bloc with its two-thirds majority railroaded the revisions through the chamber on Nov. 27.
Legislator Motohiro Ono of the opposition Democratic Party for the People demanded that the upper limit for foreign workers to be accepted under the new arrangement be included in the bill. Prime Minister Abe, however, rejected this request, saying, “Labor shortage situations can fluctuate depending on economic and social conditions.”
The bill creates two new residency statuses for foreign workers. The category 1 status for those with certain knowledge and experience allows its holders to stay in Japan for up to five years. The category 2 status, meanwhile, is for workers with a high level of expertise and allows its holders to live with their family members, with their periods of stay extendable. Participants in the government-sponsored Technical Intern Training Program can obtain the category 1 status without tests.
In connection with the new immigration arrangements, the premier revealed a plan to establish a program aimed at excluding job placement companies with bad track records, such as demanding expensive deposits and commissions, from involvement in the employment of such foreign workers. “A Justice Ministry order will stipulate that foreign workers or relatives paying deposits (for their job placement) will not be accepted into Japan,” said Abe.
Under the technical trainee program — originally designed to transfer Japan’s technological know-how and experience to people from developing countries — a number of trainees have been forced to continue working for illegally long hours at low pay, sometimes facing sexual harassment.
Many of those trainees are expected to apply for the category 1 residency status for certain industries that would be allowed to accept more foreign workers. About this prospect, Abe emphasized that the new statuses “are not being established just for companies (accepting trainees) to secure cheap labor and extend their working periods at their (the employers’) convenience.”
According to Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, who will be responsible for the management of the new immigration system, technical trainees who have completed the three-year training course and gone back to their home countries can apply for the category 1 status without taking examinations.
As for support programs for foreign workers, the prime minister indicated his intention to help the local communities hosting them by assisting in the establishment of Japanese-language courses or compiling and distributing guidebooks on life and working tips.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of directors of the upper house Judicial Affairs Committee on the evening of Nov. 28, Chairman Shinichi Yokoyama, a lawmaker from the junior ruling coalition party Komeito, decided to start deliberations on the immigration bill on Nov. 29 at his own discretion.