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Employers, foreign trainees lack info on new residency statuses beginning in April

Pham Quang Tuyen, right, and his fellow workers talk about their lives in Japan at their workplace in the city of Nagareyama in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, on Jan. 28, 2019. (Mainichi/Jun Kaneko)

NAGAREYAMA, Chiba -- Many Japanese employers and potential foreign workers are still lacking information on new residency statuses the government is set to introduce in less than two months, even though the Justice Ministry has begun some briefing sessions.

Starting in April, the new statuses for workers with "specific skills" would allow up to around 340,000 foreigners into Japan over the next five years to live and work in a bid to alleviate the nation's serious labor shortages. Many of these workers are expected to be drawn from the pool of foreign technical trainees already in Japan.

The ministry says it plans to post relevant documents for accepting such foreign workers on its website in March. It has begun briefing sessions for corporations, among others, and plans to conduct more throughout the nation.

Many potential employers and industry groups, however, complain that they cannot go ahead with preparations because not enough information is available.

Under the new immigration system, companies and others accepting foreign workers are obliged to support newcomers in both their jobs and daily lives. "Registered support organizations" will offer such support in place of employers incapable of doing so.

Industry groups and certified social insurance and labor consultants are expected to apply to provide services at such bodies. They are required to be able to operate in foreign-language environments and have actual records of supporting foreigners. A Justice Ministry official in charge said they expect support organizations accepting foreign technical trainees and monitoring employers to apply to be registered to take care of foreign workers.

However, staffers at those trainee support organizations appear confused. An official at one such body in the city of Chiba east of Tokyo, which is considering applying for the status, says they are "checking the Justice Ministry website every day, but it's confusing."

"We need concrete information soon," the official said.

Shota Koyama, who heads JAPAN Gyosei Shoshi Jimusho, an office of certified legal specialists of administrative procedures in Tokyo's Taito Ward, says that considering the new system begins in April, the ministry has not provided a sufficient explanation.

He set up a website in January to provide information about registered support organizations, but its page to explain application procedures remains "under construction."

The Ministry of Justice held its first briefing session about the new residency statuses for foreign workers on Feb. 6 in the city of Kurayoshi in the western Japan prefecture of Tottori, and then in the city of Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture in central Japan on Feb. 8. Questions at both sessions centered on detailed procedures such as necessary documentation or the expected time needed to actually accept foreign workers.

A 46-year-old man considering accepting foreign workers appeared frustrated. "I asked questions and they just said 'ask local labor bureaus.'"

Kunio Saito, an orchard operator considering hiring foreign workers under the "specific skills" residency statuses, also complained about the slowness of relevant information coming out. "We need people because the harvest is coming, but it looks like we won't be able to hire (foreign workers) this season."

--- Some foreign trainees have 'never heard of' new residency status

The new "specific skills" residency statuses cover 14 industry sectors, and 11 of them including construction and agriculture are expected to hire many foreign technical trainees already in Japan. But many trainees working in these sectors didn't know at all about the new statuses.

"I had never heard about 'specified skills' until you (the reporter) told me," said Pham Quang Tyuen, a 26-year-old Vietnamese trainee working at the Kiya Kogyo construction company in Nagareyama. Tyuen and two others came to Japan in July 2016, and lives in a company dormitory. They are paid a monthly salary of around 150,000 yen, several times the level in the trainees' home country. Tyuen has sent home 100,000 yen every month, and built a two-story house in Vietnam.

The trio want to keep working in Japan for two more years after their three-year training period is complete, but had not heard about the new residency statuses. As foreigners working under those statuses are expected to receive more pay than trainees, Tyuen expressed interest, saying, "I would like to try to win such a status."

The slow notification about the new system is apparently due to a lack of details about the procedures and other information. "We cannot explain (the new system) to trainees because we have to be clear cut," said Shinya Kudo, who heads the administrative section of electronic appliance maker Syowa Sangyo Co. in the city of Nirasaki in Yamanashi Prefecture west of Tokyo. An official at a support organization for foreign trainees said trainees only know about the new arrangement by word of mouth. "We receive more inquiries from overseas organizations that are recruiting and sending foreign trainees to Japan," said the official.

(Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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