Japan passes controversial bill to open door to foreign blue-collar workers

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With the younger generation of Japanese shying away from blue-collar jobs, the Japanese government is forced to formally open its doors to foreign workers to fill in sectors that suffer severe labour shortage, including construction, farming and nursing care. Xinhua

TOKYO (Xinhua) – The Japanese parliament has passed a bill that would pave the way for the nation to formally open its doors to foreign blue-collar workers amid severe labour shortage.

Japan’s ruling bloc has forcibly “bulldosed” the bill through the parliament on Saturday despite staunch resistance form the opposition parties, who held that the bill was vague and had not received sufficient deliberation.

Under the new legislation, two new resident statuses are expected to be created from next April, granting working rights to foreigners in sectors that suffer severe labour shortage, including construction, farming and nursing care.

The first status involving the new immigration law will allow five-year working visas to foreigners with applicable vocational skills spanning 14 different fields, but they will not be allowed to bring their families.

For foreign workers eligible for the second status, who have more advanced skills, the length of their stay will be open-ended and they will be allowed to bring their families with them.

The government will also upgrade the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau to an agency to strengthen its abilities to deal with the increase in foreigners.

Critics of the legislation, however, said that it failed to specify the types of jobs the foreign workers would engage in and would give the government too much freedom to decide details later through ministerial ordinances without parliamentary debate.

There have also been concerns that the lack of detail in the bill could create loopholes through which foreign workers could be exploited, especially amid criticism about the country’s technical intern programme which, set up with the intention to transfer skills to developing countries, has been said to be a cover for importing cheap labour.

Lawyers and advocacy groups here have been quick to point out that there have been numerous cases in the past where trainees and labourers have been brought to Japan from overseas on the promise of certain jobs or programmes, only to find themselves working in exploitative conditions that infringe on their human rights.

The government, nevertheless, predicts Japan would accept up to 47,550 foreign workers in the first year from next April and up to 345,150 over five years.

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