Japan to Give Preference to 8 Asian Countries for Specified Skills Residency Visa & Establish Measures to Support Foreign Workers

The Japanese government plans to bring in workers from eight Asian countries under the recent revision to the Immigration Control Act, which establishes two new visa residency statuses, in a major change to Japan’s immigration policy that will allow lower skilled workers into Japan. Starting in April 2019, hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers will be brought into Japan from the following countries: Viet Nam, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, plus an as-yet-undecided country. The government also plans to establish bi-lateral information sharing and measures to support foreign workers and make it easier for them to live Japan, such as streamlining the opening of bank accounts.

Life Support Measures for Foreign Workers

Specific policies related to the two new visa status since the passage of the revision on December 8th include the following:

Fair and Secure Working Environment

Under the Technical Intern Training program which was introduced in 1993, interns from developing countries have been accepted by Japanese firms nominally to help them acquire job skills, but many cases have been reported of trainees being subjected to illegally long work hours and not being paid proper wages. As of this June, there were about 285,00 foreigners in residing in Japan under the Technical Intern Training status. Critics of the recent amendment to the Immigration Control Act had consequently cited the abuses of the technical intern program as a reason for not passing the revision.

In light of this, the government has since stated that it is urgent to create the foundation for foreign workers to have a fair and secure working environment.

Bi-Lateral Agreements and Information Sharing

  • By March 2019, the government plans to establish bi-lateral agreements with the eight selected countries to promote workers’ rights and promote information sharing.
  • Under the Technical Intern Training program, for example, ill-intentioned brokers would demand large security deposits from workers in order to participate in the program. This led some workers to flee from their jobs and overstay their visas. Bi-lateral agreements will supposedly make it easier to share investigative information between Japan and workers’ home countries, leading to the apprehension of such brokers.

Making it Easier to Open Bank Accounts

  • The Financial Services Agency (FSA) will establish guidelines directed at all financial institutions in Japan to make it easier for foreign workers to open bank accounts and streamline payroll for workers.
  • The background to this measure is that under the Technical Training Program, it is difficult for workers to open bank accounts at Japanese banks. As a result, many interns are paid in cash, which makes it more difficult to check whether they are being paid the correct amount and on time (and make its much easier for unscrupulous firms to underpay interns).
  • Under the two new visa statuses, foreign workers are also supposed to be paid at least a salary equivalent to Japanese workers.

Getting Housing and Learning Japanese

  • The government plans to create a framework to provide information related to finding foreigner-friendly housing in Japan.
  • The government also plans to create a multi-lingual residential lease agreement, as the language barrier is seen as a major hurdle for foreigners trying to rent housing in Japan. Please see Real Estate Japan’s English translation of a standard Japanese residential lease agreement for an example of what a Japanese lease contract looks like.
  • A manual related to rental housing in Japan will also be created and disseminated to foreign workers and Japanese real estate agents.
  • The government plans to open educational facilities nationwide to help foreign workers learn Japanese, with an emphasis on practical words and phrases used in daily life.
  • An amount between 20 billion and 30 billion JPY (about 176 million USD and 265 million USD) has been set aside in in the FY 2019 budget for measures related to housing and Japanese language learning for foreigners.

Visa Overstayers: Periodic Inspections of Japanese Language Schools

  • To fight against the ongoing problem of visa overstayers who nominally come to Japan to study Japanese, but overstay their visas in order to work, the government will periodically inspect Japanese language schools and require them to file status reports.

One-Stop Life Support Consultation Centers

  • The government will set up about 100 “one-stop life support centers” in each of Japan’s prefectures and designated cities, where foreign workers can get help on issues related to living in Japan.

Access to Medical Care

  • A system will be established to enable foreign workers to get medical care from all medical institutions in Japan.

Multi-Lingual Support at Public Institutions

  • A multi-lingual translation system will be set up at the consultation desk of all public institutions.

Ministerial Meeting with the Year

  • Prime Minister Abe has called for an inter-Ministry meeting by the end of this year for the concerned ministries (Legal Affairs, Foreign Ministry, Health, Labor, and Welfare) to make formal decisions and policies related to the acceptance of foreign workers from the eight selected countries.

Articles Related to the New Specified Skills Visas

News source: Nikkei Shinbun, December 11, 2018