Foreigners could lose long-term access to social support if the conservative Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations) has its way.
The party aims to submit bills to the extraordinary Diet session to bar foreigners from receiving state assistance by replacing the current system of cash handouts — handled by municipalities — with perhaps a one-year program of food stamps and other limited aid to help foreigners get through periods of distress.
The party, launched by former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, wants to end 60 years of welfare benefits doled out to foreigners, Fumiki Sakurauchi, its policy chief, told The Japan Times last week.
Foreigners usually receive support for living expenses in the form of monthly stipends, including free medical treatment and nursing care.
Sakurauchi said the move was prompted by the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in July declaring that foreigners are not entitled to benefit from Japan’s welfare program.
“Now that the top court has confirmed that only Japanese citizens are eligible for welfare benefits I think it’s time to create a separate legal system that will work in lieu of the current public assistance law” for those foreigners who need financial aid, he said.
A 1950 law on public assistance technically singles out “citizens” of Japan as legitimate recipients of the benefits in times of financial distress.
In practice, however, foreigners with long-term or permanent residency have been granted the aid based on a 1954 notice by the then-Welfare Ministry that allowed municipalities to decide.
A ministry survey found that 43,479 foreigners’ households were on the welfare register in 2011. Koreans accounted for 66.2 percent of the total, at 28,796 households, followed by Filipinos at 11.2 percent and Chinese at 10.2 percent.
The party’s proposals hold that foreigners in hard times will be entitled to food stamps and other aid, but only for a limited period — most likely a year.
In this period, Sakurauchi said, foreigners “will have a choice — either they leave Japan or become naturalized citizens of Japan. If you want to continue to subsist on our money, I’d say be naturalized.”
The bills in the making, Sakurauchi said, are not targeted at foreigners alone. They are more of an attempt, he said, to overhaul the nation’s welfare benefit system which the party alleges is being abused by “not a small number” of recipients, both Japanese and foreign.
Citing reports that recipients are sometimes spotted gambling away their handouts, Sakurauchi said the party will also propose that benefit recipients, both Japanese and foreign, get aid mostly in the form of vouchers and food stamps, as in the United States, or even in kind.
It will also call for a halt to the free medical services, asking recipients to cover some of the expense — about 10 percent or so.
External auditors will also be authorized to scrutinize recipients’ bank accounts to make sure they are not hoarding savings.
“The bills aren’t about ‘tightening up’ ” the poor, said the lawmaker, “they’re more about making the system more legitimate.”
Sakurauchi also emphasized that the party has no intention of “bullying foreigners.” He acknowledged there are certain rights foreigners should enjoy equally with Japanese citizens, such as freedom of speech and religion.
Still, he said, some aid is given to foreigners at government discretion and is contingent on the state’s financial health. Welfare is one such example.
“That’s the underlying reason why the current law limits legal recipients of welfare benefits to citizens of Japan,” he said
Since Jisedai no To only holds 19 seats in the Lower House, at least two short of that needed to submit legislation, it will seek nonpartisan support to get the bills into the system, said party member Makoto Tomoyuki.