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LDP postpones approving bill to amend law to accept more foreign workers

The Liberal Democratic Party's headquarters is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 20, 2018. (Mainichi/Naoki Watanabe)

TOKYO -- An intraparty procedure within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for approving a bill aimed at expanding the acceptance of foreign workers in Japan is being delayed as many legislators have raised questions about the move.

The governing party's Judicial Affairs Division decided at a meeting on Oct. 26 to delay a decision on a bill to amend the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act until at least Oct. 29 as many members pointed out that the party has not held thorough discussions on the issue.

The executive branch of the government intends to make sure that the bill is passed into law during the ongoing extraordinary Diet session in order to implement the new system in April next year. However, there is now a possibility that submission of the bill to the Diet, planned for early November, will be delayed.

At the Oct. 26 meeting, Gaku Hasegawa, director of the division, presented a draft resolution calling for enactment of the proposed revisions first and then for intraparty discussions on the amendment to be reflected in the enforcement of the new immigration system.

Some members of the division expressed support for the expansion of Japan's acceptance of foreign workers. "We should consider how much farmers are suffering from the workforce shortage," a younger legislator said.

However, many others voiced opposition to or raised questions about the move.

"The acceptance of low-wage workers could adversely affect efforts to overcome deflation and raise wages," said one of the opponents.

Some others called for modification of the bill. A senior legislator who previously served as a Cabinet minister urged that foreign workers be covered by social security programs.

In response to these opinions, the division decided to postpone making a decision on the issue until a meeting on Oct. 29.

Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner, also held hearings on the issue with ministries and agencies concerned on Oct. 26.

The core of the amendment is the establishment of two new residency statuses: a maximum five-year status for those who engage in work requiring a certain level of knowledge and experience, and a renewable residency status for those who do work that calls for sophisticated skills.

The government is considering granting qualified foreigners these statuses and allowing them to work in 14 sectors such as nursing care, farming and construction.

An outline of the bill to amend the law presented by the Justice Ministry on Oct. 26 states that the acceptance of foreign laborers should be expanded in fields where it is difficult to secure sufficient human resources. The outline says specific fields would be stipulated by enforcement rules.

The government is aiming to introduce the system designed to make up for Japan's labor shortage in April in a bid to garner more support from voters in rural areas in advance of the summer 2019 House of Councillors election.

However, some LDP legislators have voiced concerns that such a measure could be counterproductive. "Fears persist that public safety could worsen as a result of an increase in the number of foreign workers," says a mid-ranking LDP legislator.

The government intends to approve the bill to revise the law at a Cabinet meeting as early as Nov. 2 and have the Diet begin deliberations on the proposed revisions as early as Nov. 8.

The LDP's Health, Labor and Welfare Division will have debate on the bill prior to the Oct. 29 meeting of the party's Judicial Affairs Division. However, if a conflict emerges within the party over the bill, the intraparty procedure for approving the bill will be further delayed, making the schedule for Diet deliberations extremely tight.

There are growing observations within the LDP that it will be difficult to enact the revised bill in time to implement the new residency statuses in April, says an LDP member of the upper chamber.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department, and Shinya Hamanaka and Nozomu Takeuchi, Political News Department)

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