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Abe to answer Diet questions in aim to pass immigration reform bill on Dec. 7

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will answer Diet questions on Dec. 6 about a government-sponsored bill to accept more foreign workers to counter labor shortages in response to demands from the opposition bloc.

The arrangement was made in a meeting of directors of the House of Councillors Judicial Affairs Committee on Dec. 5, paving the way for the ruling bloc's plan to pass the bill into law on Dec. 7. The ruling parties, which have an overwhelming majority in the upper house, had intended to put the revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to vote on Dec. 6. However, they apparently made a small concession to delay it by a day in the face of the opposition's demand for the prime minister to appear at the judicial panel.

Abe told a gathering of economists at a Tokyo hotel on the evening of Dec. 5 that he was going to "face complicated questions tomorrow for two hours at the Judicial Affairs Committee, even though I still have jet lag." The prime minister was away on an overseas trip until Dec. 4.

Earlier on Dec. 5, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet Affairs Commission Chairperson Hiroshi Moriyama and Tetsuo Saito, secretary-general of the ruling junior coalition partner Komeito, met at a hotel in Tokyo. There, they once again confirmed their plan of passing the bill through the Diet during the current extraordinary session, which comes to an end on Dec. 10. Moriyama expressed hope that the bill would be passed on Dec. 7 when he told reporters, "I guess the upper house could reach a decision by the end of this week."

Major opposition parties, including the largest Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), intends to resist the ruling bloc's move by possibly submitting a censure motion against Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita and a non-confidence motion against Abe's entire Cabinet. The Ministry of Justice will be the leading agency handling immigration issues related to the foreign laborers to be accepted under the new system.

CDP Diet affairs chief Kiyomi Tsujimoto said on Dec. 5 that she was thinking about how to respond "when they rammed the bill through the upper house," and suggested that a non-confidence motion is an option.

Another opposition party, the Democratic Party for the People (DPP), meanwhile, started negotiations with the ruling bloc on a resolution that will accompany the immigration bill. The resolution, which will call for setting a cap on the number of foreign workers to be accepted, is leverage for the DPP. This way, it can have its opinions reflected in the bill, as a counterproposal bill the party submitted to the upper house will likely be voted down.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Affairs Committee heard the opinions of three expert witnesses during the deliberations on Dec. 5. Professor emeritus Kazuteru Tagaya of Chiba University, who was invited by the ruling camp, praised the proposed immigration system as "a fundamental effort to tackle the problems of the Technical Intern Training Program."

The program is notorious for serving as a cover for Japanese employers to exploit foreign workers as cheap labor under terrible conditions, when they are supposed to be trained to transfer Japanese technical expertise back to their home countries.

In contrast, associate professor Sachi Takaya of Osaka University graduate school, who testified for the opposition, criticized the immigration system proposed by the government, saying, "A system that only allows for foreign nationals to be considered as labor and sends them home when they lose their job and residency status must not be accepted."

Prior to the witness hearing, 10 members of the judicial panel visited a Japanese language school in Tokyo's Arakawa Ward, and interviewed foreign students who are learning the language while working part time.

(Japanese original by Yusuke Matsukura, Political News Department, and Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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