National / Politics

Local Japanese governments call for more help to cope with expected influx of foreign workers

Kyodo

Japanese cities with large populations of foreign nationals on Tuesday urged the central government to offer more assistance as the country prepares to start accepting workers from overseas under a new visa system.

Leaders and representatives of 15 municipalities with an especially high concentration of citizens from South America and elsewhere gathered for their annual meeting to discuss with central government and immigration officials how best to live together with foreign nationals.

The Council of Municipalities with Large Migrant Populations compiled a statement stating Japan as a society must work on a variety of issues that may accompany the expected influx of foreigners.

“Accepting foreigners and realizing social coexistence, which have been considered challenges for certain local communities, will need to be discussed, shared and dealt with as issues for Japanese society as a whole from now on,” the statement said.

The statement also referred to their concerns that more foreigners will be accepted into the country “without sufficient consideration of various issues that emerge in local societies.”

The new visa system will start in April as part of an effort to attract more foreign workers for Japan’s labor-hungry businesses. It will cover 14 sectors, including construction, farming and nursing care, all of which are identified as suffering from labor shortages amid the country’s aging population and falling birthrate.

“We’d like to ask the state for financial assistance,” said Toshiaki Murayama, mayor of the town of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture.

Foreign nationals make up about 18 percent of the town’s population, and the mayor said it is important to provide sufficient Japanese-language education to help prevent foreign people and their children from falling into poverty.

At the gathering in the city of Ota, which was held about two months before Japan’s revised immigration law kicks in, other leaders of local governments also said there are limits to what they can do by themselves.

“We’d like the central government to legally require firms (receiving foreign workers) … to organize Japanese-language education and give them guidance for living in Japan,” said Tomohiro Mori, mayor of Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture.

Yasutomo Suzuki, mayor of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, said it is necessary to set up a special agency tasked with dealing with all issues involving foreign nationals, and also called for moves to pave the way for them to eventually settle in Japan even after first entering the country with a visa that only permits staying for a limited number of years.

The introduction of the new system represents a major change for Japan, which had effectively granted working visas only to people with professional knowledge and high skills, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.

While opening the front door to foreign blue-collar workers is largely welcomed by municipalities, the change has also raised concerns among some that think the government’s plan lacks specific measures to ensure proper working and living conditions for them.

The central government plans to set up about 100 special consultation service centers across the country for providing information, but the project has faced a backlash from many municipalities as it has left most of the decision-making to them.

The number of foreign workers in Japan tripled over a decade to a record-high 1.46 million as of October, marking the 11th straight year of increase since comparable data became available in 2008, when it stood around 486,000, according to the labor ministry.

Under the new visa system, Japan will accept up to around 345,000 over the next five years.

Without taking into consideration the expected influx of workers, a labor ministry panel forecast that the country’s workforce could drop 20 percent by 2040 from 2017.

Other cities that took part in the annual meeting included Ueda, Iida, Toyohashi, Toyoda, Komaki, Tsu and Suzuka.

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