• The Associated Press


The government began offering money Wednesday for unemployed foreigners of Japanese ancestry to go home, mostly to Brazil and Peru, to stave off what officials say poses a serious unemployment problem.

Thousands of foreigners of Japanese ancestry, who had been hired on temporary or referral contracts, have lost their jobs recently, mostly at manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and its affiliates, which are struggling to cope with the global downturn.

The number of foreigners seeking government help to find jobs has climbed in recent months to 11 times the previous year at more than 9,000, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

“The program is to respond to a growing social problem,” ministry official Hiroshi Yamashita said.

Japan has tight immigration laws that generally allow only skilled foreign workers to enter the country. The new program applies only to Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry who have special visas to do assembly line and other manufacturing labor. It does not apply to other non-Japanese, Yamashita said.

The government will give ¥300,000 to an unemployed foreigner of Japanese ancestry who wishes to leave the country, and ¥200,000 each to family members, the ministry said. But they must forgo returning to Japan. The budget for the aid is still undecided, it said.

The visa program for South Americans of Japanese ancestry was introduced partly in response to a labor shortage. But the need for such workers has dwindled in recent months after the global financial crisis hit last year. The jobless rate has risen to 4.4 percent, a three-year high.

The government has already allocated ¥1.08 billion for training, including Japanese-language lessons, for 5,000 foreign workers of Japanese ancestry.

Major companies traditionally offer lifetime employment to their rank and file, so workers hired on temporary contracts have been the first to lose their jobs in this recession.

First day for 820,000

Kyodo News

An estimated 820,000 new recruits marked their first day of work nationwide Wednesday amid heightened fears about the course of the economy.

Most companies and the central and local governments held welcoming ceremonies on the first day of fiscal 2009. The number of recruits this year is tens of thousands fewer than last year.

As of Feb. 1, 86.3 percent of graduating college students had found jobs, marking the first fall in five years, a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry survey showed. The rate came to 87.5 percent for high school graduates at the end of January, the first fall in six years.

This year’s ceremonies were held as the recession is deepening. According to ministry estimates, 1,845 college and high school graduates had their job offers retracted amid the downturn.

A recent government survey found that business sentiment among major corporations stood at minus 51.3 in the January-March quarter, the worst-ever reading for two straight quarters.

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