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Editorial: True foreign resident support agency needed for smooth integration in Japan

For the new residency statuses the government plans to introduce to succeed, it is vital to create an environment in which foreign workers can thrive as members of local communities, and with the acceptance of other residents.

The task of creating this environment through the implementation of support programs will be entrusted to a new immigration control and residency management agency, to be established by upgrading the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau. The agency would be launched in April 2019, should a bill amending the Act for Establishment of the Ministry of Justice be passed during the current extraordinary Diet session.

However, the mission of the agency as stated in the bill is to fairly manage immigration control and residency of foreigners in Japan. The text makes no mention of support or promoting coexistence.

More than 1.28 million foreigners are already working in Japan. Many of them not only work but play important roles in their local communities. The sole focus of the legal provision, however, is management, and one has to wonder what the government really means to do.

The Immigration Bureau's main task is to confirm if foreigners are residing in Japan with proper statuses, through immigration control and residency checks. The office pursues those staying in the country illegally, and deports violators or places them in detention facilities.

The bureau is also responsible for approving Japanese language schools. As many foreign students work illegally, the bureau is tightening up screening procedures for residency applicants.

The bureau should continue closely monitoring illegal stays to counter terrorism and maintain order.

However, supporting new foreign workers is a completely new and different mission from keeping tabs on them. Support entails a wide variety of services, from making sure the workers are registered in the pension and social security programs, to promoting Japanese language education, conveying information on daily life in Japan, and providing consultations. This policy needs to be advanced through dialogue with relevant government offices and local bodies.

But the Justice Ministry has never tackled these issues, nor accumulated relevant know-how.

The government says it plans to hire new people or bring staff from other ministries and agencies into the Justice Ministry on loan, but it is doubtful that they can properly handle the rapidly increasing number of foreign workers in the coming years.

Challenges presented by this new mission involve education, employment, medical services, and other issues, all linked together. They need more than immigration policy handled by the Justice Ministry. A new government office incorporating necessary functions from a variety of ministry and agency departments should be envisioned for the long-term support of foreign workers.

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