Ban lifted on ‘nikkei’ who got axed, airfare

But Japanese-Brazilians must have work contract before coming back

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

In what could be a significant change in policy affecting “nikkei” migrant workers from Brazil, the government Tuesday lifted a ban on the return of Japanese-Brazilians who received financial help in 2009 to fly home when they were thrown out of work during the global financial crisis.

Ostensibly an attempt to help the unemployed and cash-strapped Latin American migrants of Japanese ethnic origin escape the economic woes here, the 2009 initiative offered each an average of ¥300,000 to be used as airfare. It eventually resulted in an exodus of around 20,000 people, including 5,805 from Aichi Prefecture and 4,641 from Shizuoka Prefecture.

Although some of the migrants were genuinely thankful for the chance to get out of struggling Japan and find jobs back home, others were insulted because accepting the deal also meant they couldn’t come back to Japan at least “for the next three years” under “the same legal status.” This was seen as an outrageous move by the government to “get rid of” foreign workers as demand for their services fizzled out.

The migrants were initially banned from re-entering Japan for an unspecified period of time, but after a storm of both domestic and international condemnation, the government eventually said it might green-light their return after three years, depending on the economy.

In its move Tuesday to lift the ban on re-entry, the government cited recent signs of economic recovery. In one such example, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry says the ratio of job offers to job seekers, having logged 0.95 in August, is on a steady trajectory back to the level before the Lehman shock, which caused the downward spiral in the first place.

“The more the government trumpeted the positive effect of ‘Abenomics,’ the harder it became for it to keep pretending the economy isn’t strong enough” to lift the ban on their re-entry to Japan, said Angelo Ishi, a professor in the sociology department at Musashi University.

But this apparent concession by the government comes with a catch that has sparked sharp disagreement among the Japanese-Brazilian community.

People of Japanese descent, or “nikkei,” will only be granted the coveted right of re-entry if they secure an employment contract of at least one year with a Japanese firm beforehand, a deal some decry as a near impossibility.

Japanese-Brazilian Giullyane Futenma, 22, is one who bemoans this requirement, saying most foreigners in her circumstances can only find work as a temporary hire, typically renewing the contract every three months.

“Many of my friends in Brazil say they want to come back here now that the ban is lifted, but they don’t think they actually can because of this condition,” said Futenma.

Her parents, after being plunged into penury when they suddenly lost their jobs following the global collapse, used the 2009 program to get back to Brazil.

Ishi of Musashi University defended the condition as not entirely merciless. For one thing, he said, it’s a virtual warning against the sliest of Japanese employers and job brokers who had traditionally thought nothing of jettisoning foreign temporary workers with little regard for their contracts. Government officials, he said, are now duty-bound to supervise, and if necessary, punish those wrongdoers and ensure that migrants are allowed to stay on the payroll for at least a year.

“So in a way, it allows (the migrants) to start fresh with the prospect of better job security,” he said.

Ishi also argues that the condition signals a historic change in Japan’s perception of nikkei migrant workers.

Official acceptance of these people dates back to 1990, when the immigration law was revised to grant them privileged long-term residential visas. Back then, Japan was still in boom times and thus desperate for cheap labor to fill the oft-despised “3K” jobs — “kitsui” (difficult), “kitanai” (dirty), and “kiken” (dangerous). But the government was careful not to clearly admit that the nation needed more laborers, because legitimizing an influx of foreign menial workers would take jobs away from Japanese — or so many conservatives feared.

However, now that the government is making it mandatory that the migrants can re-enter Japan only if they have a one-year job contract, “it’s like the government is proclaiming it will only welcome the nikkei if they can serve Japan as useful laborers,” Ishi said.

Although government officials questioned by The Japan Times reiterated in chorus that the only reason the nikkei are being allowed back in is that economy has improved, some experts aren’t buying it.

They believe it had something to do with an unprecedented lawsuit initiated by Futenma against the government in May.

Futenma and many others only begrudgingly agreed with their families’ decision to use the 2009 money and give up the ability to come back to Japan. One of the ramifications was that by leaving she was torn asunder from her beloved friends in their hometown of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

“I felt like the government was saying it doesn’t need us anymore because we lost our jobs. I wish I could have stayed, because I had already grown so accustomed to living in Japan that I’d come to consider it my home,” said Futenma, who came to Japan with her parents when she was 7.

Two years after her return to Brazil, she married Lucas Futenma, who had bought his own ticket home to Brazil in 2009. Lucas re-entered Japan in 2012 looking for work and requested that his wife be granted admission as well, only to be turned down twice.

“Saying those (Latin-American) migrants are banned from entering Japan just because they used a government-sponsored project has no legal ground whatsoever,” said Ryo Takagai, the lead lawyer in Futenma’s lawsuit.

In an unexpected flip-flop, the government greenlighted Futenma’s re-entry before the trial opened. Observers say it was as if the government feared it would lose in court.

The Futenmas have been reunited and currently live in Hamamatsu.

When contacted by The Japan Times, an Immigration Bureau official explained Giullyane Futenma was only permitted re-entry because her newly gained change in marital status also changed her legal status.

But Hamamatsu Gakuin University professor Kimihiro Tsumura believes Futenma’s triumphant return no doubt sparked the government’s move to lift the re-entry ban.

“I can only hope Japan learned a lesson this time and will never resort to the same kind of inhumane program even if the economy plunges again,” he said.

Although Futenma yielded to her parents’ wishes and returned to Brazil on government money, many Japanese-Brazilians in her generation decided to stay, Tsumura said.

He said the government probably didn’t see that coming, having traditionally deemed younger migrants as a mere appendage of their parents, and gave short shrift to their feelings of independence.

Indeed, many of them came to Futenma’s aid, creating a loud outcry that the government eventually found impossible to ignore.

“In a way, these nikkei youths made a brave stride toward showing (the government) that they’re totally capable of standing up and acting on their own” Tsumura said.

  • Franz Pichler

    I don’t see any wrongdoing here. The government obviously decides to grant visas if there’s need for people from abroad to fill vacant jobs. Once those jobs dry up and it offers a cash incentive to leave the country I think it has the right also to put conditions on that, otherwise it would have no effect at all. The effect was that 20,000 people who saw no future in japan left paid on a flight by the government. No one forced them out as far as I understand, so what’s the big deal? A very lose way in handling immigration causes only trouble, look at Europe, Europe is in Ames of its own making and please don’t tell me that’s not the case, Europe is experiencing mass immigration totally out of control. I think japan is doing a good job. Keep it up japan !

    • Manfred Deutschmann

      That’s not the case.

      • Franz Pichler

        As far as the Japanese government was concerned they were guest workers. Jaoan didn’t make the stupid mistake Europe made, they keep a strict but fair immigration policy. That’s why japan doesn’t have the many problems Europe is facing in regards to to its many illegal immigrants. One can like or hate their policy but one has to admit that their immigration policy is fair and coherent. What’s the point in taking in many if you can’t even take care for the few! I’ve been here for almost 16 years and never had a problem with immigration nor with the japanese people. They just want to control who they let Into the country and who not. It’s as easy as that.

      • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

        It really isn’t as easy as that though. Japan has plenty of illegal immigrants as well.

    • Toolonggone

      >The effect was that 20,000 people who saw no future in japan left paid on a flight
      by the government. No one forced them out as far as I understand,…

      No. It was the government who asked the workers to leave due to economic meltdown in 2008. They also ordered not to re-enter for the next 10 years (eventually reduced to 3 years). Lifting the ban sounds good news to Nikkei. But, the condition of life-ban suggests that the immigration authorities will not let all of those who got kicked out. Japan’s labor condition is deteriorating. Even many Japanese have difficulty getting a full-time job. And very few of them are willing to take 3-K jobs. Any prospects for improvement of labor condition? Not that I know of.

      • Franz Pichler

        I said “no one forced them out” and you said “no the goverent ASKED them to leave”, that’s the point, they were asked to leave! And not forced! It was a contract they entered: money for leaving and bit returning for a certain time span, so no go deal!

  • Toolonggone

    Matter of convenience, re-instate the status of “indentured servitude.” You name it.

  • disqus_Gvs3G32z1K

    This whole thing is an example of what is currently Japan’s biggest problem(well, arguably pre-Fukushima anyway). It’s attitude toward immigration. From both the common people and politicians there is largely a refusal to allow mass immigration to take place in spite of the fact that Japan needs it now more than ever. Scotland faced a similar situation with an aging population but remedied it with a more lax immigration policy. The Japanese as they currently exist will eventually disappear through an acceptance of foreigners or simple extinction.

    • Franz Pichler

      Scotland is not a country, at least not before the referendum (and probably also after that…) and has no legislative powers on immigration which lies in London and more and more in Bruxelles and The Hague (when you consider appeals on deportations ecc think Abu Qatada….) . Scotland had and has to follow London’s policy on immigration and with the Border Agency in total meltdown for years it was finally beheaded this year by Theresa May. The Border Agency had no control whatsoever on immigration and when you listen to Today in Parliament you can’t miss the fact that immigration control is still in shambles in the UK. So, for the time being you can be sure that more immigrants will help Scotland grow and prosper….. On the other hand, control is now back at the Home Office, and the govs language grows day by day more anti immigration in the UK….. and to state that “The Japanese as they currently exist will eventually disappear through an acceptance of foreigners or simple extinction.” is simply ignorant.

  • Franz Pichler

    I don’t know the immigration visa status of the “nikkei” when they cam to Japan. I also don’t know the legal issues that regulate “working visas”. If the visas that had been granted were for permanent residency (which I would think they were) than the people that were asked if they would like to take advantage of this scheme had a choice, they knew that they were entering a contract (money in exchange for not returning for a specified period). If the nikkei entered on a “work visa” and we assume that work visa means that to fulfill the requirements of this type of Visa is to be in employment than again, they were not thrown out but the contract they entered when they accepted this type of Visa expired once they lost their work. To say if such a proposition by the GoJ to these people was morally correct can be open to debate. I don’t think that it is morally correct to do this but I still strongly agree to the depiction that these people have been “thrown out”. They left by taking the money from the devils hands…..