KOBE -- The Kobe city government announced on May 25 that it will introduce foreign students to volunteer work and also pay them an allowance to help them get by during the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has shuttered schools and many businesses where students work part-time.
Kobe, capital of western Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, plans to recruit around 100 people to engage in volunteer work from June to August. The tasks include checking information signs along hiking paths and reporting if they are easy to understand from the viewpoint of a foreigner, as well as cleaning parks, among other jobs. Students will work three hours a day and be given an honorarium of 3,500 yen for their work, and to help with food expenses and transportation. The city expects to have about 10 of these volunteering days per month.
A large number of foreign students who graduated from Japanese language schools and other institutions in late March can neither go home due to flight cancellations, nor work legally after they have converted their residency statuses from student to short-term stay. Because they cannot be compensated for labor, these individuals will receive a smaller sum of 2,000 yen a day from the city, to cover their food and transport expenses.
A total of 8,091 foreign students lived in Kobe and attended local universities and Japanese language schools as of the end of March, according to the city's international affairs section. A lot of students pay tuition and meet their living expenses with part-time work, but the pandemic has forced many businesses -- especially in the hospitality industry -- to close. The national government is considering supporting students with handouts of 100,000 or 200,000 yen each, but eligibility will be determined by academic performance and other limiting factors.
Dao Thi Hai Van, 24, a Vietnamese student who studies at a Japanese language school in Kobe's Hyogo Ward, said, "I'm glad to hear about the volunteer recruitment. It's been a difficult time since part-time work opportunities have decreased. I can also learn more Japanese as I'll have more chances to talk with Japanese people."
Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor at Kobe University's graduate school who is an expert on foreign student issues, commented, "The national government has accepted foreign students into the country, with expectations for them to be de facto workers. Although the scale of support given out by Kobe cannot be said to be enough, the fact that they took immediate measures as a local authority is to be commended."
(Japanese original by Kwanghoon Han, Kobe Bureau)