Two major issues concerning polices with foreign workers is immigration control and social integration. The government's comprehensive package to support new workers from overseas, finalized on Dec. 20, is yet another example of the government's sloppy approach of focusing only on immigration and putting social integration on the back burner.
The revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act approved on Dec. 8 by the Diet did not include details that needed to be discussed in the national legislature as the government put those issues aside to be included in ministry orders at a later date. Those revisions should have focused on measures to support foreign workers as they live in Japan. The comprehensive package, which supplements the revisions, was finally released.
As many as 126 measures are included in the package, including programs for medical and life support, social security, Japanese language education and improving the workplace environment. The lineup shows the political gravity of assistance for foreign workers.
Yet no coherent system is visible in the package as the government is rushing to accept more foreign workers from April 2019 based on the legal revisions creating two new residency statuses for workers from abroad. It clearly highlights the government's delay and lack of sufficient preparations in putting together those supportive programs.
--- Limitations of a rush job are clear
The government will set up about 100 one-stop consultation stations across the nation, including at prefectural capitals, at a cost of some 2 billion yen. This plan of having local governments, not the central authority, respond to potential concerns from foreign residents on a broad range of issues such as employment, medical services and welfare, is practical. It is understandable that the plan calls for the introduction of multilingual services at those stations.
But local governments are concerned because no details about the procedures for installing those stations, such as the process of approval or their possible locations, have been presented so far.
Finding people with a command of foreign languages to work at those stations is no easy task. It is not acceptable for the central government to completely farm out this difficult job to local governments.
But the most problematic item in the support package is the program for Japanese language education and its lack of substance.
It is vital to create an environment in which Japanese and foreign residents can communicate with ease to maintain a stable life. This is necessary for a safe life in Japan, a country with many natural disasters.
Foreign applicants for new residency statuses for workers with specific skills are required to be able to handle more than daily conversation in Japanese. The government package says that tests to examine this capacity will be conducted in nine countries with particularly high demand for employment opportunities. But there is no explanation about how to administer the tests in those countries.
The level of Japanese language education after those foreign workers' acceptance into Japan, outlined in the government package, is also insufficient. Concerning potential educational materials, the plan lists classes broadcast by University of the Air, Japanese language texts prepared by public broadcaster NHK, and nighttime junior high school courses. These measures, however, are already implemented by nonprofit organizations and others, and nothing new.
This arrangement deserves criticism if the government intends to reduce the cost of language education on the assumption that most foreign workers to be given new residency statuses are foreign technical trainees already in Japan with certain levels of Japanese ability.
-- Emphasis on living together with foreigners should be made
As for some 700 Japanese language schools across the nation, the government plan calls for applying more stringent monitoring measures against those institutions on the assumption that the quality of education provided by some of the schools is low. But exploring measures to improve the quality of teachers through financial support is important, too, in accepting many foreign workers.
The 126 life-support measures in the government package is nothing but a hodgepodge of programs submitted by relevant government ministries and agencies, and no substantial considerations have been given to their validity. It is not clear who will be responsible for implementing those measures, including the one-stop consultation stations and Japanese language education programs.
Moreover, the package does not clearly show the government's determination to ensure Japanese people live in harmony with foreign workers. This suggests that it is difficult for the Justice Ministry alone to implement policy measures to accept more foreign workers. We need an organization capable of promoting the integration of foreigners into Japanese society.
More foreign laborers are going to stay longer in Japan. A major issue we need to tackle is how to prepare a system of social security for those workers. Pension and medical insurance programs for those who would stay at least 10 years in Japan need to be established.
Under the current arrangement, workers with new residency statuses will have to go through a complicated process of getting new health insurance certificates when they change jobs. The government's support package lacks details over how to sufficiently respond to this situation. In addition, it has been left to the next session of the Diet to decide whether corporate health insurance coverage should be extended to foreign employees' family members living overseas. This issue requires a swift resolution.
We request that the Diet discuss support measures for foreign workers to clarify the vision for such programs and ensure their effective implementation.