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Justice Ministry to tighten rules for Japanese language schools to curb illegal workers

In this file photo dated Sept. 12, 2018, a student from Southeast Asia works as a clerk at a Lawson convenience store in Osaki, in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Justice has decided to tighten the rules on the establishment of Japanese-language schools starting October in a bid to prevent those facilities from offering a cover for illegal work in Japan, according to ministry officials.

The schools will be instructed to open classes throughout the year to maintain a high quality of education and to stop them from offering curricula that allow students to work when there are no classes.

According to the Japan Student Service Organization, the number of foreign students in Japan grew by more than 100,000 in a five-year period ending in May last year to some 267,000. Of the total, 78,000 students, or three times the figure in 2012, attended 710 Japanese-language schools. The remainder, or 188,000, went to universities and other institutes of higher education.

Unlike universities, Japanese-language schools can be opened by corporations or individuals as long as those institutions meet Justice Ministry standards on the hours of classes or the number of teachers. The current ministry guidelines stipulate that a Japanese-language school must hold at least 760 classes a year, or 20 classes a week, while each class should run at least 45 minutes.

But some schools pack those classes into limited periods of the year and thus allow students to work during the remaining time. Although the ceiling of weekly working hours for foreign students is 28 hours, they are allowed to work for up to eight hours a day while they are on vacation. This feature is used by some language schools in an apparent bid to attract foreign students whose real purpose is to work in Japan.

In response to this situation, the ministry will introduce a new provision to its guidelines so that such schools must have at least 35 weeks of classes through the year. The new rule will be applied to schools to be opened in October or later, while existing institutions will have to comply from October 2020.

In addition, schools will be required to have deputy principals from October 2020 if a single principal manages multiple Japanese-language schools.

"We want to return those schools to their intended form of teaching the Japanese language," a ministry official said in explaining the reason for the change.

The ministry move comes as the government plans to introduce legal changes to open the country's doors wider to foreign workers in fields such as construction and nursing that suffer from serious labor shortages.

In addition, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has plans to make it easier for foreign graduates of four-year Japanese universities and vocational schools specializing in areas promoted by the government's "Cool Japan" strategy such as animation, Japanese cuisine and game design to find jobs in Japan by relaxing rules on residency statuses.

Apparently, the ministry will tighten its rules on Japanese-language schools so that the quality of students studying there will improve.

There have been cases of Japanese-language school operators being arrested by police for allegedly allowing their students to work more than legally permitted. One such case involves the president of a personnel placement company who doubles as the head of a Japanese-language school in the city of Ashikaga in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo. The suspect was arrested by the Tochigi and Gunma prefectural police departments in November 2016 on suspicion of promoting illegal work.

The president stands accused of dispatching two Vietnamese students as storehouse workers and allowing them to work longer than the illegal limit of 28 hours a week. The Vietnamese students were also arrested on suspicion of committing activities not permitted under their residency statuses.

In May 2017, a managing director of a building management company that runs a Japanese-language school in the city of Kyoto in western Japan was arrested with another individual on a similar charge. They are suspected of allowing two Sri Lankan students to work longer hours than the legal limit.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign students overstaying their visas has been on the rise since 2015, reaching 4,100 as of Jan. 1 this year. By nationality or area of origin, the number of Vietnamese staying illegally is increasing rapidly. Of those newly found as overstaying their visas, 51 percent attended Japanese-language schools in 2016.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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