Foreign Workers and Human Rights

Public Relations Office        November 15, 2019

Yasushi Iguchi Professor, School of Economics

Yasushi IguchiProfessor, School of Economics

Yasushi IguchiProfessor, School of Economics

 Since April 2019, the Revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law has been implemented, and the Immigration Bureau at the Ministry of Justice has been reorganized into the Immigration Services Agency. Through the new “designated skilled labor” visa sta- tus, we anticipate that over the next five years, a little under 350,000 foreign workers will be accepted into Japan after securing a certain level of Japanese language proficiency and technical skills.

 According to the same basic government policy, “in order to deal with the intensifying labor shortage, which includes small-to- medium businesses and small-scale operators, we will carry out initia- tives for improved productivity and staff retention. In fields of industry where it is difficult to secure staff, we will formulate mechanisms to accept foreign workers who possess a certain level of expertise and skills, who will become immediate assets.”

 There are various reasons for the labor shortage. The biggest reason, other than mismatches in types of work and skills, is that companies’ wages are low and working conditions are substandard. In a deflationary economy, in particular, many companies in Japan made it their top priority to curtail their overall labor costs. There is a tendency to reduce investment in personnel training per person. While they have increased non-full-time employment for women and the elderly, they have not raised wages per person.

 There is a major disparity in the labor productivity of micro, small and medium-sized companies in comparison to large companies. The problem will not be solved if Japan accepts foreign workers in low-productivity sectors without correcting the domestic economicdisparity. In this situation, because the government is restricting the freedom of foreign workers to change occupations and bring their family members with them, this will merely mitigate the labor shortage.

 Even for advanced professionals or foreign workers who are not necessarily unskilled, will it be possible to implement ways to accept them without negatively affecting domestic workers’ employment andtheir work- ing conditions? In terms of economic theory, a labor demand bottleneck is the mechanism that occurs when an excess of labor demand and a decline in labor supply happen concurrently and continuously.

 Acceptance of foreign workers should be permitted through identifying labor demand bottlenecks through objective indicators and relevant information. In current employment security statistics, a new job offer is regarded as an available job opening for three months. If the job cannot be filled by then, it becomes a new job offer with a different number. We should alter this method to grasp the duration for unfilled job openings, assign consecutive numbers to the same job offer, and specify region, industry and type of work. In addition, we must anticipate the capacity of training facilities for skilled workers and the demand for types of work, and also take the standards for wages, working conditions, and other factors into account.

 In order to take in foreign workers without causing job insecurity for people who have difficulty finding employment, these reforms are extremely important. Although the Ministryof Justice is strengthening its residence controls, it is more important to implement social integration policies through the participation of local residents and municipalities. At that time, it will be essential to have guaranteed opportunities for Japanese language learning, as well as a sufficient budget and human resources. If Japan consistently responds to the labor shortage by only taking short-term measures, Japan’s international role, presence on the world stage, and its reputation with regard to foreign worker policies will never get better.

Kenichi YanaiProfessor, School of Law and Politics

Kenichi YanaiProfessor, School of Law and Politics

Kenichi YanaiProfessor, School of Law and Politics

 Atthe 197th(extraordinary) session of the Diet on December 8th, 2018, legislation was enacted to partially revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and the Ministry of Justice Establishment Act (hereafter, this legislation), and was officially announced on December 14th (Act No. 102 of 2018).

 An overview of this legislation can be summed up as follows. First, through the enactment of this legislation, two statuses of residence were established in order to accept new foreign workers: Designated Skilled Labor 1 (a visa status for foreigners who will engage in work requiring a considerable degree of knowledge and expertise in short-staffed fields of industry which need to secure personnel) and Designated Skilled Labor 2 (a visa status for foreigners in the same fields who will engage in work requiring expert skills). In addition, the existing mission of the Department of Justice was amended, from ”the fair treatment of emigrants and immigrants” to “the fair treatment of emigrants, immigrants, and foreigners residing in Japan,” and the Immigration Services Agency was established as an external bureau of the Ministry of Justice.

 This legislation is a response to the dwindling birthrate and aging population, which goes hand-in- hand with a declining population and working-age population, as well as a rise in the ratio of job openings to job applicants. Establishing defined rules and newly introducing visa statuses to approve new foreign labor is, in essence, intending to accept unskilled foreign labor in through the front door, which had not been deemed acceptable until now. It is a certainty that a growing number of foreign workers will be accepted as a result of that policy being carried out (estimates predict up to 345,150 workers will be accepted over five years).

 The government has declared “we will not adopt animmigration policy.” In practice, however, Japan has been taking in foreign workers through loopholes on an ad hoc basis without having systematic policy ideals. For a time, a case where exchange students at a university disappeared en masse caused a stir in the newspapers and other media. Concerning the problem of truancy—with the government not being able to confirm if registered foreign resident children old enough for compulsory education were attending school—despite MEXT requests via prefectural Boards of Education for local government to investigate truancy numbers, and schools judging that Japanese language education is necessary for these children, there are many cases of foreign children all over Japan who are here without receiving education (it is expected that a law to promote Japanese language education will be passed during this Diet session).

 The insufficient number of people and lack of manpower appear before our eyes as abstracted numbers. However, education based on the foundational principle of Mastery for Service is our calling. For us, we should also pay attention to the simple yet grim truth that those numbers are people who exist and are living their lives.