08 Dec 2018
Japan enacts controversial law to accept more foreign workers
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition in the early hours today rammed through legislation to bring more blue-collar foreign workers into the country, in a controversial move to address chronic labor shortages.
The bill was enacted after the upper house gave approval despite a raft of criticism by opposition parties following its passage through the lower house in late November.
Government plans to bring about 345,000 foreign workers from Apr'19
Under the new system, the government plans to bring in as many as 345,000 foreign workers in construction, food services, nursing and other designated sectors for 5 years.
"We aim at starting it in Apr'19 because we need to swiftly launch the new system... to deal with the current labor shortage," Abe told the Parliament.
Both the chambers are controlled by Abe's ruling camp.
Law doesn't protect foreign workers' rights, claim opposition parties
But opposition parties claimed that the law, which will allow foreign nationals with skills in various sectors, fails to address the potential impact on Japanese society of new foreign labor and doesn't protect foreign workers' rights.
In a bid to block its passage, opposition parties submitted censure motions against Abe and Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, but they were easily rejected by the ruling bloc.
For permanent residency, passing more difficult Japanese language test mandatory
The law allows foreign nationals with skills in sectors facing particularly severe shortages to obtain five-year visas, which wouldn't allow them to bring their families.
Foreign workers in those fields who hold stronger qualifications and pass a more difficult Japanese language test will be able to obtain a visa that can be extended indefinitely, eventually leading to residency along with family.
Questions raised over the rights and security of migrant labor
But there have been questions about whether an influx of foreign workers will depress wages, how the workers will be incorporated into Japan's social security system, and worries about the exploitation of migrant labor.
Many of Japan's low-skilled foreign workers are in the country under a so-called "technical training" program, which has repeatedly faced several allegations of abuse.
Unemployment hovers around 2.5% in Japan
"We shouldn't create a new system hastily without reviewing the technical training program in which problems are mounting," Yoshifu Arita, an opposition lawmaker, told Parliament.
Businesses have long lobbied for looser immigration rules, saying they struggle to find workers in a country where unemployment hovers around 2.5%.
The chronic labor-shortages are only worsening as Japan's aging, shrinking population means a decline in workers' pool.