Japan enacts controversial law to accept foreign workers

Members of Japan's lower house of parliament clap their hands as they stand up to support a bill during the plenary session in Tokyo on June 2, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 08 December 2018
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Japan enacts controversial law to accept foreign workers

  • The law allows foreign nationals with skills in sectors facing particularly severe shortages to obtain five-year visas, which would not allow them to bring their families

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition early Saturday rammed through legislation to bring more blue-collar foreign workers into the country, in a controversial move to address chronic labor shortages.
The bill was enacted after the upper house gave approval despite a raft of criticism by opposition parties following its passage through the lower house in late November. Both chambers are controlled by Abe’s ruling camp.
Under the new system, the government plans to bring in as many as 345,000 foreign workers in construction, food services, nursing and other designated sectors for five years.
“We aim at starting it in April next year because we need to swiftly launch the new system in order to deal with the current labor shortage,” Abe told parliament on Thursday.
But opposition parties claimed that the law fails to address the potential impact on Japanese society of new foreign labor, and does not protect foreign workers’ rights.
In a bid to block its passage, opposition parties submitted censure motions against Abe and Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, but they were easily rejected by the ruling bloc.
The law allows foreign nationals with skills in sectors facing particularly severe shortages to obtain five-year visas, which would not allow them to bring their families.
Foreign workers in those fields who hold stronger qualifications and pass a more difficult Japanese language test will be able to obtain a visa that can be extended indefinitely, eventually leading to residency, and will be able to bring over family.
But there have been questions about whether an influx of foreign workers will depress wages, how the workers will be incorporated into Japan’s social security system, and worries about exploitation of migrant labor.
Many of Japan’s low-skilled foreign workers are in the country under a so-called “technical training” program, which has repeatedly faced allegations of abuse.
“We should not create a new system hastily without reviewing the technical training program in which problems are mounting,” Yoshifu Arita, an opposition lawmaker, told parliament.
Businesses have long lobbied for looser immigration rules, saying they struggle to find workers in a country where unemployment hovers around 2.5 percent.
The chronic labor shortages are only worsening as Japan’s aging and shrinking population means a declining pool of workers.


Donald Trump to declare ‘national emergency’ to fund US-Mexico border wall

Updated 1 min 54 sec ago
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Donald Trump to declare ‘national emergency’ to fund US-Mexico border wall

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump will declare a national emergency Friday to fund his long-sought US-Mexico border wall, after agreeing to a measure that prevents a new government shutdown but excludes the billions he demanded for the barrier.
Trump’s plan, announced by the White House on a chaotic political day Thursday, alarmed US lawmakers, including those in his Republican Party who warn that the move would set a dangerous precedent, and Democrats who fumed about an abuse of presidential power.
The massive spending measure will keep federal agencies operational through September 30 — a relief for lawmakers who had fretted about the possibility of a second crippling shutdown this year.
But it falls wells short of the $5.7 billion that Trump has been demanding for a wall on the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) southern border, and Trump’s emergency declaration would help him bypass Congress and get the money that lawmakers refused to give him.
Signing the spending bill will bring an end to a rolling, two-month battle over government funding.
But by declaring an emergency, Trump opens a new confrontation — and creates some of the riskiest legal peril of his term.
Under the National Emergencies Act, the president can declare a national emergency, providing a specific reason for it.
That allows the activation of any of hundreds of dormant emergency powers under other laws, which can permit the White House to declare martial law, suspend civil liberties, expand the military, seize property and restrict trade, communications and financial transactions.
Recent presidents — including Trump — have used emergency powers on such issues. But the expectation that Trump will use the authority to raid billions of dollars from government accounts for the funding of a wall is sounding alarm bells on Capitol Hill.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s Democratic nemesis in Congress, said declaring such a national emergency would be “a lawless act (and) a gross abuse of the power of the presidency.”
Members of her caucus were “reviewing our options” about how to respond to Trump’s move, she told reporters Thursday.
“I’m not advocating for any president doing an end run around Congress,” Pelosi added.
“I’m just saying that the Republicans should have some dismay about the door that they are opening, the threshold they are crossing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he backs the president’s emergency intent, but several others in the Republican camp have expressed deep reservations.
“I have concerns about the precedent that could be set with the use of emergency action to re-appropriate funds,” veteran Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said in a statement.
Senator Susan Collins said it “would be a mistake” for the president to declare such an emergency, warning it would “undermine” lawmakers’ all-important role as holders of federal purse strings.
Article 1 of the US Constitution states Congress gets to decide how money is appropriated. Many lawmakers have said they have no idea where Trump will draw the funding from.
Democrats in particular have signaled that the move would open the door to future presidents declaring emergencies on various topics, from gun violence to climate change to the opioid crisis.
There is broad expectation that Trump’s move would be challenged in court.
And House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler expressed support for a joint congressional resolution of disapproval to “terminate” Trump’s emergency declaration.
Such a move has a chance of passing both chambers of Congress, but Trump would almost certainly veto it.
Lawmakers could try to override the veto with a two-thirds majority but that would be tough going in the Senate, where several Republicans may not wish to cross the president.
The spending measure includes only $1.375 billion for border barriers or fencing, far from the $5.7 billion that Trump has sought for his long-promised border wall — a demand that led to the recent 35-day government shutdown, the longest in US history.