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Abe reiterates need to accept more foreign workers in April next year

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Dec. 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated after the close of the extraordinary Diet session on Dec. 10 that Japan needs to accept more foreign workers to counter Japan's acute labor shortages, under a new immigration framework set to start in April 2019.

Speaking at a press conference at the prime minister's office, Abe said, "The entire country is short of workers, and the new system is needed for talented foreigners to further contribute to Japan." He stressed that the problem was particularly acute for small- and medium-sized businesses in regional Japan, adding that the situation "requires immediate attention."

The premier promised to introduce a comprehensive package needed to implement the system "right away," including the government's basic policy, as well as ministerial guidelines setting numbers of additional foreign workers to be accepted by specific industries. The package will include a plan to support workers including a housing assistance program. The basic policy will be passed by the Cabinet on Dec. 25 or 28, and the entire package will be introduced before the end of the year, according to Abe.

The basic policy will include items such as how to manage new residency statuses to be given to those foreign workers, measures to be taken when sufficient labor is secured, programs run by accepting organizations to support foreigners, and the required level of Japanese language proficiency among foreign workers with the new residency statuses.

Abe told the press conference that the government will "set clear caps on the numbers (of additional foreign workers) and limited the period (they can stay in Japan)," insisting that the new measures do not constitute a policy to accept foreign immigration. He reiterated his intention of presenting the entire picture of the new system at the Diet before its implementation, as urged at the rare behest of House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima.

Regarding the constitutional revisions he wants to introduce, Abe explained that he still hopes to implement a revised supreme law in 2020, a goal he stated in May last year. "I said so with the conviction that I must take the initiative to deepen national debate" on the issue, he added.

Abe said it is ultimately up to the people of Japan to decide on a constitutional change, and urged a speedup of discussions on the issue. "Unless political parties present their ideas on the Constitution, people cannot debate the matter. I expect a broad consensus to emerge among people regardless of their political affiliations," said Abe.

Abe intended to present revisions to the Constitution during the latest extraordinary Diet session, but no debates took place in the constitutional councils of either chambers of the Diet, due largely to opposition resistance. Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants to make four changes to the Constitution, including writing the existence of the Self-Defense Forces into the supreme law.

Asked about the arrest and indictment of former Nissan Motor Co. Chairman Carlos Ghosn for allegedly underreporting his executive remuneration, Abe responded that he would refrain from discussing individual cases. Still, he said he "shared an understanding" with President Emmanuel Macron of France that it is important for the alliance among Nissan, French carmaker Renault S.A. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. "to maintain a stable relationship." He added that Japan-France ties "are not going to waver."

The prime minister's post-extraordinary Diet session news conference was his first since December 2013, after the passage of the controversial special state secrets protection law.

(Japanese original by Naoki Oita and Jun Aoki, Political News Department)

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