Foreign maids the talk of Kansai zone

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Discussions began in Osaka on Monday on a proposed special economic zone in the Kansai region that will include an experimental program to attract foreign maids to the region.

An initiative backed by the central government, the zone is a series of locations in Hyogo, Osaka, and Kyoto prefectures where taxes and regulation will be lower than elsewhere.

Yoshitaka Shindo, state minister in charge of decentralization, met with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui, Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido and senior Kansai business leaders in the pharmaceutical and transportation industries — two sectors expected to benefit from the zone — to discuss the issue.

“With regulatory reform in the special zone, new industries can be created,” Shindo said.

The Kansai zone is one of six nationwide announced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government as a way to revive local economies. Of interest to Kansai are plans to have Osaka serve as a zone where it is easier to find and hire foreign housekeepers.

Current immigration regulations allow only foreign diplomats to employ foreign maids, but the Justice Ministry would grant Osaka-based workers some form of residency status.

The pilot program aims to serve the needs of Japanese working families requiring housekeeping assistance for elderly relatives or children. But other details, including the number of non-Japanese who would participate, under what conditions and from which countries, are undecided as yet.

Meanwhile, foreign companies wishing to establish a Japan branch within the Kansai zone will be able to complete the necessary legal and administrative paperwork in English. And a new system that would make it easier for foreign businesses to hire foreign exchange students for certain jobs in the zone is also being considered.

Monday’s discussion was the first of an ongoing series of meetings between Kansai and central government officials over how to operate the zones. Matsui told reporters afterward that the second meeting will likely be held by this autumn.

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