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Editorial: Gov't statements on support for foreign workers, local bodies still paper thin

The government's explanation on how to accept more foreign workers still lacks detail, though the measure is being promoted as a national policy.

In out-of-session meetings of the committees on judicial affairs of the Diet's two chambers on Jan. 23, testimonies given by government officials left us with growing concerns about the country's preparedness to accept more overseas workers from April as planned. Particularly worrisome was their responses to questions on the "comprehensive measures" designed to make our society more inclusive. The package contains 126 programs to support newcomers to Japan in areas such as medicine, residence services and social security.

An opposition member asked about the number and cost of programs that local governments are expected to shoulder. The head of Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau did not respond with clear numbers, and Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita only stated that he "would like to communicate and share information with local governments." As those measures cost money, prefectures and municipalities have a strong interest in them. The testimonies from top officials of the lead agency on this issue are far from comforting.

When the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act was revised in 1990 to accept more South Americans of Japanese descent, the central government farmed out most of the support programs for those newcomers to local governments, including Japanese-language education and housing assistance. Local governments are mindful of this history and worry that Tokyo will do the same thing again.

The centerpiece of the "comprehensive measures" is the introduction of one-stop consultation centers for foreign residents at 100 municipalities across Japan. This plan, too, is not free from concern.

Under the current arrangement, local governments will set up those centers, and the central government will provide financial assistance. It is understandable to allow prefectures and municipalities to call the shots as they can better respond to local needs.

However, providing multilingual consultations at those centers, a goal envisioned by the central government, is no easy task. Local governments that have already struggled to provide education and medical services in multiple languages emphasize the difficulty of finding people with necessary skills, such as interpreters.

During the Diet hearings, officials repeated many times that the central government will help. If they intend to just throw money at the issue and let the local governments do the hard work, that's not helping. The central government must lead to solve challenges when national bureaucrats have far greater resources than their local counterparts.

House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima said in a lecture late last year that the government's method of using Justice Ministry orders to set the details of the immigration system changes to accept more foreign workers is "a bit rough." He added that the government is "held accountable to explain" its plans. The recess hearings were held after he made these complaints, but the government officials' statements at those hearings are far from convincing.

We want the Diet to continue exercising diligent oversight on the administrative branch's handling of issues that have been put on the back burner.

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