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Gov't would stop accepting foreign workers under proposed system once needs met: minister

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita responds to a question on a bill to accept more foreign workers in Japan, during an upper house Budget Committee meeting on Nov. 5, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Japan would stop accepting foreign workers under a proposed plan to boost the number of those hired from overseas if an economic downturn or other such factors brought a foreseeable end to labor shortages, Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita said Nov. 5

"We would stop accepting them so as not to affect the employment of Japanese nationals," Yamashita said during a meeting of the House of Councillors Budget Committee.

The minister's comments, however, drew fire from opposition legislators, who argued that even if the acceptance of foreign workers were halted, those who had already arrived in Japan could not be suddenly driven out of the country.

Under a proposed revision to the immigration control law, Cabinet ministers overseeing fields in which foreign workers are accepted could ask the Minister of Justice to temporarily stop issuing certification of foreign workers' statuses of residence once personnel needs have been met in those fields. The justice minister could then implement a suspension of certification.

However, one of the newly proposed statuses of residence, covering specified technical skills, would be valid for up to five years. Opposition legislator Renho, the upper house secretary general of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, argued in the chamber's Budget Committee, "If there are foreigners with periods of employment remaining, then that would affect the hiring of Japanese people."

Economic Revitalization Minister Toshimitsu Motegi avoided saying during the Budget Committee session exactly how many foreign workers would enter Japan under the proposed revision. "We will scrutinize the issue, looking around five years (into the future), for industries still suffering from a lack of workers after the participation of women in the workforce and the utilization of elderly workers and implementation of new technology," he said.

A condition of the "specified skills category 1" status of residence proposed under the bill is that the person engages in work requiring a specific degree of knowledge and experience. Regarding the type of worker that could be accepted under this status, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Takamori Yoshikawa gave the example of "a person with basic knowledge of agricultural chemicals and fertilizer."

Meanwhile, when Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii was asked whether a worker in this category could engage in bed-making and meal deliveries, he went no further than stating, "We are considering as a whole the skills that would be required for the accommodation industry."

Criticizing the government for repeatedly stating that issues relating to operation of the proposed system were "being reviewed" or "under consideration," Eri Tokunaga of the Democratic Party for the People argued that it would be "premature to pass the bill to revise the law during the current session of the Diet."

Justice Minister Yamashita, however, stated that if the enactment of the bill were delayed six months, tens of thousands of foreigners would have to return home. Those foreigners would include people completing the technical trainee program and switching their residency status to the new category 1 status.

The trainee program requires those finishing the course after a maximum of five years to go home because the system is officially designed for the transfer of their experience and expertise acquired in Japan to their developing home countries. The program has faced criticism with suggestions it is a cover to attract foreign labor at low cost.

Yamashita called for the bill to be passed at an early stage so the measures could be brought into effect in April next year, stating that delays "could affect tens of thousands of companies thinking of employing them."

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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