Ruling parties to railroad foreign labor bill in lower house

The ruling parties on Tuesday are set to railroad through the House of Representatives a bill that would open the door to foreign blue-collar workers, despite fierce resistance from opposition parties.

In a last-minute effort to block the passage, the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and others submitted a no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, who oversees the issue. But it was voted down by the ruling camp at a lower house plenary session.

The bill cleared a lower house committee in the evening so that it will presented to a plenary session for voting. But concerns remain that the bill, which is estimated will bring hundreds of thousands of foreign workers to Japan in a five-year period, is heading toward its passage without sufficient deliberation.

The bill to amend the immigration control has been at the center of heated discussions in parliament. But it is seen as necessary to deal with Japan’s serious labor crunch, despite being controversial, as it could bring major societal change to a country that has largely restricted imported labor.

Japan has mainly accepted highly-skilled professionals in such fields as medicine and law. But in a drastic policy shift for Japan, the bill would create new visa statuses for workers from overseas in sectors deemed to be suffering labor shortages, ranging from nursing care to the hospitality and construction industries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito want the bill to be enacted by the end of the ongoing Diet session on Dec. 10 and for the scheme to be started in April next year to tackle manpower constraints caused by Japan’s aging population.

They aim to launch deliberations in the upper house on Wednesday, the day before Abe is scheduled to leave for the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

The opposition forces have pointed to problems in the government’s existing technical training program, under which many foreign interns are believed to have been underpaid and exploited, and urged the government to address them first before introducing the new scheme.

The government has been under fire for its release of flawed survey results on foreign trainees who quit their jobs. The Justice Ministry wrongfully explained that 87 percent of them had left «in pursuit of better pay,» although 67 percent of the respondents, in fact, replied they had left because of «low wages.»

(People stage a protest rally as the ruling bloc intends to have a foreign workers bill pass through the lower house)

Japan introduced the training program for foreigners in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme that allows interns to stay in Japan for up to five years has faced criticism at home and abroad as a cover for companies to import cheap labor.

Under the envisioned system, two types of residence status for non-Japanese workers are expected to be created across 14 sectors.

The first type, valid for up to five years, will be given to those with adequate knowledge and experience, but will not allow their family members to accompany them.

Technical interns could obtain the first-type status after completing their five-year term, meaning they would not be able to live with their family members for up to 10 years in total.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations has urged the government to review the plan so that they could bring their family members to the country.

The second type will be for foreign nationals needed in fields requiring higher skills. The government does not plan to cap the number of visa renewals, opening up the possibility for them to live permanently in the country.

The government estimates Japan would accept up to 47,550 foreign workers in the first year, of which more than half would be former trainees under the technical internship program.

Over five years, the country is projected to take in up to 345,150 workers from overseas.

All — Kyodo News+

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