The government is considering upgrading the Ministry of Justice's Immigration Bureau into an immigration control agency.
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The move comes amid the government's planned introduction of a new residency status for foreign workers across five fields suffering from an acute labor shortage, namely the construction, agriculture, nursing care, shipbuilding and lodging industries, starting April 2019.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed the Justice Ministry to serve as a coordinator to make the necessary preparations for the expected inflow of foreign workers with the introduction of the new visa status. Upgrading the Immigration Bureau is seen as part of this response.
New workers from abroad are expected to exceed 500,000 people by around 2025. That number is double that of the approximately 250,000 technical intern trainees from developing countries who work at factories and farms. The new residency status will surely open the door wide for workers doing such jobs to come to Japan.
In the long run, however, this is an issue that comes down to designing the future of Japan with its rapidly shrinking population. How do we both maintain the workforce and energize society at the same time? This important question has hardly been sufficiently examined within the government.
This means that a major policy turnaround of accepting a large number of unskilled workers from overseas was determined without any substantial discussion. Revamping the immigration organization alone will not necessarily make the process of acceptance go smoothly. Upgrading a bureau to an agency will generally expand the authority of the office, but the problems we must overcome lie beyond the coverage of simple immigration administration.
The biggest challenge is creating an environment where foreigners can work with a sense of security. Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa has told reporters that the government will work to improve living conditions for such workers by providing services such as multilingual counseling and Japanese language education. But these measures alone are not enough.
For example, if a foreign resident who has completed the maximum five years of the technical intern trainee program obtains the new five-year residency status, he or she will stay in Japan for a total of 10 years. A social welfare system including medical and pension services designed for such people are necessary for a stay in Japan of that length.
The government as a whole should discuss and devise relevant policies, and the health and education ministries should also actively take part in the process.
Until now, immigration administration focused mainly on maintaining public order, including measures such as rounding up illegal residents and deporting them. With the planned organizational expansion to an immigration agency, some people argue that such control measures should be further strengthened.
But the government also emphasized the ideal of "inclusive society" when it introduced the plan to accept more foreign workers. Based on that ideal, we should aim for the creation of society where people can work and live together safely.