Japan cabinet approves bill to accept foreign workers

Japan’s agriculture sector has been one of the blue-collar segments that experience chronic labor shortage. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018

Japan cabinet approves bill to accept foreign workers

  • The bill would allow foreign nationals with skills in sectors facing particularly severe shortages to obtain five-year visas
  • The chronic labor shortages are only worsening as Japan’s aging and shrinking population means a declining pool of workers

TOKYO: Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved a draft bill to bring more blue-collar foreign workers into the country, in a controversial move to address chronic labor shortages.
The draft legislation, now likely to be submitted to parliament as soon as Friday, has come under attack from both the opposition and members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s own party, but business leaders say it is desperately needed.
The bill would allow 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.
Abe has insisted the new policy does not represent a wholesale overhaul of the country’s strict immigration policy.
Japan will only accept foreign workers “who have specific skills and can work immediately to address serious labor shortages, only in sectors that genuinely need them,” he told lawmakers Thursday.
But the bill has nonetheless faced a raft of criticism, potentially jeopardizing government hopes to pass it before the end of the year and launch the visas from April.
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.
Among the sectors in most need are agriculture, construction, hospitality/tourism and nursing.
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.
There have also been concerns about culture clashes in Japan, a relatively homogeneous society that prizes social harmony and order.
Asked how his government plans to integrate migrants, Abe pushed back against the idea.
“Please don’t misunderstand,” he told parliament.
“We are not thinking about a so-called immigration policy,” he said, repeating that most of those coming in under the plan will stay for term-limited periods.
“It is impermissible to force foreigners to accept your country’s values,” he added. “It’s important to prepare an environment for coexistence with mutual respect.”
The bill has also been criticized as short on detail, with no word yet even on how many workers the government plans to bring in.
While Japan has visas for highly skilled foreign workers, it has traditionally been cautious about accepting blue-collar foreign labor, though it opened its doors in the nineties to South Americans of Japanese descent.
Businesses have long lobbied for looser immigration rules, saying they struggle to find workers in a country where unemployment hovers around 2.5 percent and there are 165 job vacancies to every 100 job seekers.
The chronic labor shortages are only worsening as Japan’s aging and shrinking population means a declining pool of workers.


Philippines and India agree to strengthen defense, security ties

In this handout photograph taken and released by Indian Presidential Palace on October 18, 2019, India's President Ram Nath Kovind (C-L) attends a press conference with Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte (C-R) at Malacanan Palace in Manila. (AFP)
Updated 20 October 2019

Philippines and India agree to strengthen defense, security ties

  • The two leaders agreed to strengthen maritime security ties

MANILA: The Philippines and India have agreed to boost defense and security cooperation following talks between President Rodrigo Duterte and his Indian counterpart Ram Nath Kovind on Friday.
Kovind is in Manila as part of a five-day official visit to the Philippines that began on Thursday.
In a joint statement, Duterte said he and Kovind have committed to building a “partnership” between the Philippines and India “that enables us to face challenges to our hard-won progress, jointly and effectively.”
As Duterte welcomed India’s role in his country’s defense capability upgrade program, against the backdrop of growing security cooperation, he said they have agreed “to continue working together to fight terrorism and violent extremism and other transboundary threats.”
Kovind said “both of our countries have been victims of terrorism,” and the two leaders “committed to work closely to defeat and eliminate terrorism in all its forms
and manifestations.”
He added: “As two vibrant democracies that believe in a rules-based international order, respect for international law and sovereign equality of nations, the Philippines and India are natural partners in the pursuit of their respective national development and security objectives.”
The two leaders also agreed to strengthen maritime security ties.
“As countries strategically located in the Pacific and Indian oceans, we affirmed our shared interest to protect our maritime commons and advance the rule of law in our maritime domains,” Duterte said.

BACKGROUND

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind said ‘both of our countries have been victims of terrorism,’ and the two leaders ‘committed to work closely to defeat and eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.’

He added that they also discussed “the most pressing concerns of our region and beyond, such as maritime security and economic integration.”
Following their meeting, they witnessed the signing of maritime, tourism, science, technology and cultural agreements.
Among them was a memorandum of understanding between the Philippine Coast Guard and the Indian Navy to enhance maritime security by sharing information on nonmilitary and nongovernment shipping vessels between the two countries.
“With the signing of bilateral agreements, we have likewise widened the path toward enhancement of our engagement in maritime security, science and technology, tourism and cultural cooperation,” Duterte said.
“We hope to look back on this day as a milestone in our relations, the day when we set out to turn promise into reality, and potential into concrete benefits that bring the greatest positive impact on the lives of our peoples.”