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LDP panel approves proposed immigration law change to accept more foreign workers

TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Judicial Affairs Division approved a package of government-proposed legal revisions to accept more foreign workers on Oct. 29, paving the way for submission of the measures to the current extraordinary session of the Diet.

The government hopes to pass the draft revisions through the Diet for their introduction in April next year. In total, it is considering opening up 14 industrial areas facing acute labor shortages to more foreign workers.

The Judicial Affairs Division, however, has pointed out that the government plan is not clear enough on issues such how many foreign workers will be accepted and how their social welfare will be handled. The division thus passed a resolution calling for the government to discuss guidelines with the ruling party on how to manage the larger foreign workforce expected after the changes pass.

The draft package includes revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to create new residency statuses for additional foreign workers, and changes to the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Justice to upgrade the ministry's Immigration Bureau a full agency.

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to approve the package in a Cabinet meeting on Nov. 2 following approval by both the LDP's Policy Research Council Board and its General Council, and backing from the party's junior coalition partner Komeito.

The new residency statuses include one allowing a five-year stay without family members for foreign workers with a set degree of knowledge and experience. The other category is for expert workers that allows renewal of their stay with spouses and their children. Industries accepting workers with these new statuses will be selected under guidelines to be determined by the minister of justice and other relevant Cabinet ministers, according to the draft revisions.

The 14 sectors under consideration for the acceptance of more foreign workers include nursing, building cleaning, farming, fisheries, food manufacturing, restaurant work, industrial machinery production, construction, shipbuilding, car maintenance and hotel work.

Although the LDP's judicial division approved the open-door package for more foreign workers at its Oct. 29 meeting, the policy changes drew concerns and criticism from participants, and deliberations carried on for more than three hours.

A focus of the debate was the second new residency status for expert workers "allowing stays for an unlimited period of time." The Judicial Affairs Division made 10 demands on management of this status, including the introduction of a thorough screening mechanism and its inclusion in ministerial guidelines. Participants also said the guidelines need to be set through sufficient discussions at relevant LDP panels.

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita told the division meeting that his ministry will consult with other government offices to make sure that the second status will be managed strictly and will not become a mere extension of the first, five-year residency status. This framework will be codified in Justice Ministry orders and the ministerial guidelines, said Yamashita.

The draft legal revisions were discussed on Oct. 29 at the ruling party's Health, Labor and Welfare Division. The division passed a resolution seeking a guarantee for proper working conditions, safety and public health as well as fair treatment.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada and Shunsuke Kamiashi, City News Department, and Shinya Hamanaka, Political News Department)

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