Business

Decision to permit more foreign workers draws praise from big business, fear from municipalities

Kyodo

Business leaders on Saturday welcomed Japan’s move to accept more foreign workers to ease the graying nation’s labor crunch, but some municipalities appeared unsure about how to brace for the influx.

“We welcome the enactment that is to earnestly deal with the issue of securing supporters for social life and the industrial base as (Japan) faces a serious population decline,” Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation), said in a statement.

The law, enacted in the predawn hours despite fierce resistance from opposition parties, creates a new visa system that effectively allows Japan to permit more workers into sectors desperately in need of labor, such as construction, nursing care and farming.

Many of the non-Japanese currently employed in places like construction sites and convenience stores are so-called technical interns recruited from developing countries to purportedly acquire skills in Japan, and foreign students allowed to work part-time.

The new visa system starting in April comes in response to growing calls from business circles for the government to do something about the nation’s acute labor shortage while the long-stagnant economy is in the midst of modest growth.

“Our farming industry already depends on foreign laborers. We hope that the new system will enable them to work longer,” said an official from the village of Tsumagoi in Gunma Prefecture, known for its cabbage farming.

An official at a Shikoku fishery cooperative in Kochi Prefecture, which has already accepted many technical interns from Indonesia, said it can no longer do without foreign workers and expressed hope they will stay longer by applying for the new visa.

Technical interns will be able to obtain a new visa valid for up to five years without taking a test if they have stuck with the existing intern program for more than three years.

“If they can extend their stay with the new visa, we’ll have more experienced workers and that will be helpful,” the official said.

Municipalities also recognize the importance of accepting more foreign workers at a time when Japan’s population is shrinking. But some officials said they need financial assistance from the state to help them settle in Japan.

The city of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where many foreign workers are employed by the automotive industry there, has organized Japanese classes taught by around 70 teachers.

But an official said that the program is in fact “supported by (the volunteers’) good will and passion” and that there is “no guarantee we can always secure enough people” who will serve as teachers.

Some individuals, meanwhile, said there is a need to educate the newcomers about Japan’s lifestyle and customs.

In Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, one housing complex has seen growing numbers of foreign residents, particularly Chinese, arrive since the late 1990s.

The increase, however, has created friction in the community because some throw garbage from their balconies or make noise late at night.

“Without knowledge of Japanese ways of life, foreigners would risk being treated as troublesome, so the government and local municipalities should do their part and explain it to them,” said Hiroki Okazaki, a member of the residents’ association.