Prospects of stricter visa requirements on foreign entertainers wishing to enter Japan worry Filipino recruiters and entertainers who say the restricted entry of Filipino workers into Japan may mean less money for families who depend on remittances being sent by relatives.

The concern has arisen from a Japanese draft action plan outlining stepped-up measures on the entry of foreign dancers, singers and other performing artists as part of Japan’s effort to curb human trafficking.

The Philippines depends on remittances from some 8 million citizens that are working abroad for 7 percent of its gross domestic product.

It is desperate to hold onto the large levels of cash sent annually by workers in Japan.

There are approximately 65,000 Filipinos traveling to Japan annually to work in the entertainment industry — mainly hostess and snack bars.

However, despite that fact that these bars are a long-established and legitimate industry, and many cater specifically to those who want to be served by foreign women, there is no specific visa category that allows Filipino women to work legitimately in such bars.

Instead, Filipinos must travel here on so-called entertainer visas.

These visas are granted on the basis that the holder will not work as bar hostess, serve food or drink, and must be paid a minimum of 200,000 yen a month.

These rules are regularly flouted by employers, however, placing Filipino workers outside the law and making them more vulnerable to exploitation.

The Japanese government report said the planned visa regulations place particular focus on limiting Filipinos’ entry to Japan, considering that they constitute the bulk of entrants to Japan on entertainment visas.

There is a plan to abolish the current rule giving six-month residency status to those certified by their home countries as entertainers, the report said.

But Philippines artists’ representatives believe that the proposals will only end up hurting and not helping Filipino women in Japan — and their families at home.

“There is fear that the present deployment will go down . . . We are apprehensive that there will be restrictive requirements.

“They might add requirements that will not be easy to comply with,” said Arturo Pangilinan, secretary general of the Philippine Association of Recruitment Agencies Deploying Artists, or Parada.

Parada represents 260 out of about 400 firms registered with the Philippine government to send entertainers to Japan.

Pangilinan said his association has cooperated with Japanese counterparts in the setting up of welfare monitoring centers where Filipino entertainers in Japan can seek help.

Pangilinan said the estimated 80,000 Filipino entertainers who leave annually for Japan contribute about $1 billion in annual remittances.

If Japan limits to 8,000 the number of Filipinos who enter the country using entertainer visas, the reduction in earnings may be substantial for the Philippines, which needs its estimated $8 billion in total annual remittances to keep its economy afloat.

Laira, 39, who trains entertainers aspiring to go to Japan, said she can already feel the pinch of restrictions as 20 girls in her talent pool continue to wait for government certification to leave as entertainers.

Some of the girls come from the provinces and pin their hopes of better lives for their families on the prospect of working in Japan.

“It’s good if the ones affected will be all illegal. But the legal workers like us, they will also be affected,” Laira said.

However, the Philippines is already pushing for alternative employment opportunities in Japan to keep remittance levels steady.

Japan and the Philippines last week signed a basic accord for a free-trade deal, involving an agreement that nurses and caregivers should be allowed to work in Japan indefinitely if they pass Japanese qualifying exams.

At present, however, the two countries are at odds over the number of workers that should be allowed in.

Japan hopes to limit the number to a few hundred a year, while the Philippines is hoping nurses will make up the shortfall from the visa crackdown.

In the meantime, says Migrante International, an organization of overseas Filipino workers, steep fines and detention for illegal Filipinos in Japan will not solve the human trafficking problem because its roots are not being addressed.

“The Philippines needs to take a look at its labor export policy,” Migrante Secretary General Maita Santiago said.

Women’s organization Gabriela, which has pushed hard for the Philippines’ adoption last year of an anti-human trafficking law, said it hopes authorities will lash out at the traffickers and not the victims.

Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas said Japan is not zeroing in on Filipinos and will simply impose a new visa rule.

“The report of my labor attache (to Japan, Rey Conferido) is that this is not centered on Filipinos. We are not being singled out,” she said.

“We have to respect the laws of the country . . . We should get in there with legal papers,” she said.

Most overstayers in Japan come from South Korea, Santo Tomas said, followed by China and Thailand. Filipinos are only the fourth most overstaying foreigners.

There are simply many Filipino entertainers in Japan because that is the demand there, Santo Tomas said.

Records from the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency, which processes workers bound for abroad, say 77,870 Filipinos left for Japan in 2002, and 62,539 did in 2003.

Japanese efforts to be seen to be curbing human trafficking come after the U.S. State Department, in a report in June, downgraded its assessment of Japan’s antitrafficking effort. The State Department report labeled Japan a “destination country for Asian, Latin American and eastern European women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.”

The State Department official in charge of producing the trafficking report, John Miller, went further, stating “there has been a tremendous gap in Japan — that has a huge problem with slavery, particularly sexual slavery — between the size of the problem and the resources and efforts devoted to addressing the problem.”

Japan currently has no comprehensive legislation against human trafficking, and only in April 2004 did Japan apply human trafficking charges for the first time.

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