Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Accepting Foreign Human Resources: Challenges and Opportunities
MENJU Toshihiro / Managing Director, Japan Center for International Exchange

September 18, 2018
The Abe Administration repeatedly stated in the past that it would not adopt a policy to accept immigrants from overseas. A major shift from this position was made last June in the Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform decided by the Cabinet (hereinafter referred to as the Basic Policy). In the Basic Policy, the Japanese government decided to accept foreign human resources in the area of unskilled labor to work.

Though professing not to take an immigration policy, Japan has in fact had a system that accepts foreign white-color workers more openly than other countries. Foreign students who have graduated from Japanese universities or from foreign universities can obtain the status of "Engineer", "Specialist in Humanities / International Services" and work in Japan. Permanent residency can be obtained after ten years of residence. No limit is placed on the number of people who can stay as "Engineer", "Specialist in Humanities / International Services". In a way, there are ample opportunities for foreign nationals who are university graduates to settle in Japan.

Why, then, has the Japanese government insisted that it would not adopt an immigration policy? That is because no status of residence has been set for unskilled workers except university graduates, making it impossible for them to settle in Japan. However, there has been a rapid intensification of manpower shortage in recent years, particularly with respect to those who work on site. It afflicts a wide variety of sectors including agriculture and fisheries, manufacturing and services. Under these circumstances, the Japanese government has decided to create a new status of residence for foreign nationals. The main features of this new policy are as follows:
(1) To create a new status of residence enabling foreign human resources to work for a period of stay up to five years
(2) To enable those given the new status to stay with their family members for an unlimited period, if they pass certain examinations during their stay
(3) To take a comprehensive set of measures, including Japanese language education, to support the lives of foreign human resources already residing in Japan

Though the Basic Policy characterizes this policy change as “different from the immigration policy”, it signals the adoption of a policy that is in substance very close to immigration policy. This shift from the erstwhile policy of not accepting foreign workers even under conditions of structural manpower shortage means a significant departure from the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP), in which there was a glaring gap between the stated intent of technology transfer to developing countries and the actual practice of using the trainees as workers. As such, the merit of the shift should be appreciated.

Further, allowing those who have passed certain examinations to stay with their family members opens the way for highly competent unskilled foreign workers to settle in Japan. The policy to “take a comprehensive set of measures to support the lives of foreign human resources already residing in Japan” can lay the groundwork for foreign nationals to live at ease in Japan, thus possibly making Japan an attractive location to settle for those foreign national who wish to work in Japan.

However, it is not without problems. The biggest challenge is to devise a scheme under which foreign unskilled workers can be accepted for work in Japan. The Technical Intern Training Program was fraught with problems, including violations of the Labor Standard Law by employers, which led to the revisions of the scheme under the Technical Intern Training Act legislated only last year. The new scheme to implement the Basic Policy is to be worked out even before the new legislation produces tangible results. Under the new scheme, the contracts between the foreign workers and the employers as well as their implementation are likely to be left to the private sector, in which case the possibility cannot be ruled out of problems arising that are similar to those under the erstwhile TITP. Thus the scheme to be devised by the Japanese government will be extremely important.

Another problem is that neither the specifics nor the timing has been made clear regarding the policy to enable those given the new status to stay with their family members for an unlimited period, if they pass certain examinations during their stay. If these details are clarified, highly competent unskilled foreign workers may well be tempted to come to Japan to live. How the system may be worked out deserves serious attention.

As for “the comprehensive set of measures to support the lives of foreign human resources already residing in Japan”, what is important is the system and the size of the budget for its implementation. Foreign nationals residing in Japan account for about 2% of the total population, numbering 2.56 million. The key is how fulfilling a life the programs under this policy can bring to the foreign residents.

To implement the immigration policy changes manifested in the Basic Policy, the Japanese government plans to submit the bill for revising the Immigration Control Law to the Extraordinary Session of the Diet this autumn, and to put the new system into effect next April. In its revision Minister of Justice announced that she would upgrade the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice to the Immigration Agency with its Director General. The government is accelerating the work to fill out the specifics of new policies of accepting foreign workers. As population decrease is certain to become further aggravated, there is no turning back to the policy we have adopted to accept foreign human resources. Japan is embarking on the path of a nation ready to accept immigrants from overseas. The world will be keenly watching the new system as its first step.

Toshihiro Menju is Managing Director and Chief Program Officer, Japan Center for International Exchange.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

毛受 敏浩 / 公財)日本国際交流センター 執行理事

2018年 9月 18日
安倍政権はこれまで移民政策をとらないということを繰りかえし述べてきた。その方針が大きく転換されたのが、2018年6月に閣議決定された骨太の方針(経済財政運営と改革の基本方針)である。政府は骨太の方針の中で、単純労働(unskilled labor)の分野で就労を目的とする外国人材の受入れを決定した。









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Accepting Foreign Human Resources: Challenges and Opportunities