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Deliberation on bill to boost foreign workforce begins in lower house committee

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, far right, listens to a question from Shiori Yamao of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, far left, during deliberations on a revision to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in the lower house Judicial Affairs Committee on Nov. 21, 2018. Pictured at rear is committee chairman Yasuhiro Hanashi. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee on Nov. 21 began deliberating a bill to revise the immigration control law to boost the number of foreign workers in Japan under new statuses of residence.

The move came after an opposition motion to remove the committee's chairman over a problematic survey relating to the legislation was defeated by a bloc including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), its coalition partner Komeito, and the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party).

The largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) had submitted the motion to the committee calling for the removal of chairman Yasuhiro Hanashi, an LDP legislator, over his handling of the survey on technical intern trainees who fled their workplaces. The survey was found to have several critical errors.

Initially, the Ministry of Justice stated that 2,892 trainees had fled their workplaces, and that about 87 percent of them were seeking higher wages. However, it later emerged that there was no reference to "higher" on the questionnaire forms that trainees filled in. It also became evident that the actual number of trainees stood at 2,870. Furthermore, the percentage who cited "low wages" as a reason for fleeing stood at approximately 67 percent.

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita apologized over the errors during a meeting of the committee on the morning of Nov. 21, stating, "In my testimony, I ended up reading out mistaken information data basically as it was. As the person in charge of legal and judicial administration, I apologize sincerely for presenting incorrect data to Diet members."

Legislators have focused on the survey as the proposed revisions to Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act would enable technical intern trainees who have completed a three-year training course in 14 industries under consideration to obtain a "special skills" status of residence and become regular workers.

During a plenary session of the lower house on Nov. 20, Seiji Osaka of the CDP stated, "The current move to expand the statuses of residence could be described as a mere extension of the technical intern system. We must sufficiently examine issues with the current intern system."

The proposed legislation outlines two new statuses of residence: a category 1 "special skills" status of residence valid for five years, and a "category 2" status for people to work in jobs requiring special expertise, whose holders would be entitled to long-term stays.

Masaki Wada, head of the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau of Japan, disclosed on Nov. 21 that about 45 percent of those to acquire the category 1 status would come from the pool of technical interns over the first five years of the program -- a figure ranging between 120,000 and 150,000 people. His remark came in response to questions from Takashi Fujiwara of the LDP, Masakazu Hamachi of Komeito and Shiori Yamao of the CDP.

Opposition legislators serving as directors in the lower house Judicial Affairs Committee have been going through original records from the 2017 survey, which were released by the ministry at the urging of the opposition. They are poised to argue that the records expose illegally low wages of trainees that did not surface in the survey's results.

Meanwhile, on the morning of Nov. 21, the secretaries-general and heads of the Diet affairs committees of the LDP and Komeito met in a hotel in Tokyo and agreed to aim to push the legislation through the lower house by Nov. 27 to have the bill passed into law by the end of the current Diet session ending on Dec. 10.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department, and Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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