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Editorial: Further discussion required on bill to accept more foreign workers

It is clear to everyone that the immigration bill designed to accept more foreign workers is a slipshod job far from perfection, but the incredibly arrogant government and the ruling camp have blocked their ears to criticism and even constructive proposals on the legislation, which was passed by the House of Representatives on Nov. 27.

Before the bill to revise Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act was passed by the full lower house, the chamber's Judicial Affairs Committee spent only around 17 hours discussing the changes. The opposition resisted the revisions by submitting a no-confidence motion against Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, who is responsible for the management of the new immigration system, under which a larger number of foreign workers will be handled. The ruling camp, however, used its two-thirds majority in the chamber to railroad the bill though the house.

Under the bill, the government plans to introduce two new residency statuses for additional foreign workers based on the existing Technical Intern Training Program, which has forced some trainees to work long hours with low pay -- conditions that attracted the attention of lawmakers during deliberations in the lower house.

The trainee program has spawned many problems because its goal of training people from developing countries in Japan so that they can utilize acquired know-how and experience back home, has been used as a cover to secure cheap labor as the country's workforce continues to shrink. The government has failed to tackle the program's problems head on, and has repeatedly insisted that the new immigration system and the trainee program are two different things and are not closely linked.

Nevertheless, the government estimates that tens of thousands of trainees who are set to complete their courses next spring will try to obtain the new residency statuses planned by the government. The administration argues that this expected status transition necessitates the introduction of the plan by April 2019. This logic is completely bankrupt.

How can one design a new immigration system properly without realizing the problems of the technical trainee program and finding solutions to those challenges? There should be hearings to listen to people involved in the frontline operations of technical intern training and local governments accepting those trainees.

In this sense, discussions on revising the immigration law to accept more foreigners have just begun.

Yet the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has maintained an adamant attitude about its desire to introduce the new immigration system in April next year. The posture seems to represent its fear that deeper discussions on the bill would dig up problems one after another, leaving the situation beyond the administration's control.

Moreover, the bill's structure of leaving the details of the new immigration system to future ministry orders reflects the administrative branch's stance making light of the national legislature. The government has also put on the back burner issues such as preparing social security and life support programs for foreign workers. It should be the role of the Diet to adjust problems in the immigration bill through deliberations, or exercise oversight on the administrative branch by having the government explain how to manage the new system.

One of the apparent reasons behind the ruling camp's roughshod action in the lower house was consideration for Prime Minister Abe's tour of South America starting on Nov. 29. It is a misjudgment to set a voting date for the immigration bill -- an important piece of legislation determining the future of the country for decades to come -- based on a foreign trip by the premier lasting a few days.

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