Last Saturday, on December 8th, the Upper House of the Parliament has passed the new Foreign Workers Law after voting 161 against 76. The updated bill aims to create favorable conditions for foreign workers to attract more labor force into the country that experiences a deficit of its own manpower. Despite being a necessary and probably inevitable measure at some point, the current version of the law is heavily criticized by the opposition, the Human Rights Watch and experts in the field. Let us take a closer look at what the new Foreign Workers Law brings.
First and foremost this bill is necessary to cover up for a workers shortage in the country. For many year Japan’s shrinking population is one of the top issues for the country. While 28% of the country consists of elderly people of over 65 years of age, Japan is also way too low in terms of its replacement birth rate: the fertility rate is 1.4 children while. In order to sustain the population at the current level the rate has to be at least 2.1. In a situation like this Japan loses about 400,000 people per/year.
By 2025 the country would need extra 377,000 people to perform “half-skilled” work.
As the result, the country experiences the shortage of workers in almost every area. Governmental estimates show that by 2025 the country would need extra 377,000 people to perform “half-skilled” work. For example, in a construction, caregiving, agriculture, shipbuilding and, etc. The new law is supposed to draw 345,000 new foreign workers in the course of the following five years. New 5-year vises will be provided starting 2019. This law also keeps up with the Highly-Skilled Working Visa to provide greater benefits and longer stay to qualified workers.
However, despite looking like a sound measure, there are several controversies to this law that create loopholes and, as the result, many legal and societal issues.
Many experts agree that the bill has been approved and pushed through despite severe opposition that even tried to physically block the voting process. The law is deemed to have nearly zero clear regulations about the right of the foreign workers, their integration into society, inclusion, protection, training, payment, etc.
While new regulations are supposed to make the process of obtaining a visa for non-skilled workers easies, under the same conditions it is very hard for foreign workers to stay in the country after their contract has ended. The maximum span is 10 years, provided that a certain person is allowed to obtain a second type five-year visa after the first one
Unlike the Training Visa for Interns, the new visa type would allow workers to switch their place of work within allowed industries as the measure to protect workers from unfair treatment and dependency on a visa sponsor. However, there is a chance that people will use this regulation to leave their initial positions in the countryside, where the demand for workers is higher, and relocate to the more densely populated cities. This internal migration factor may jeopardize the whole idea of sending more people to suburban or rural areas.
The Social Impact
Some people are afraid that the influx of immigrants will also break the integrity and uniformity of the Japanese society, even though currently Japan has one of the tightest immigration regulations in the world and very few foreign residents. Relaxation of immigration rules could not only solve the shortage of workers, attract more talent to the country, but also help Japan to foster a more open image. However, the current law seems to advocate interest of certain industrial groups and businesses rather than with diversity among workers and residents.
Another concern has to do with the wages. There is a chance that the foreign workers might lower the market prices due to differences in the salaries. The Government in its turn underlined in the law that invited workers must be paid equally to their Japanese counterparts in the same positions. However, other regulations regarding foreign workers’ protection are not yet clarified and should be laid out in more details by the end of the year.
Since the law is rather new and not refined, there is a chance we may see significant changes in it by the end of the year. More information on the practical application of the law will be available not earlier than the first visas are granted. We continue following the updates.