SINGAPORE – Malaysia is in talks with Japan on sending blue-collar workers to the country under a new visa program that was launched in April, official sources have said.
The two countries are aiming to strike a deal as early as July this year, when Malaysian Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran will visit Tokyo for the signing of a memorandum of cooperation (MOC), it was learned Saturday.
The memorandum is intended to provide a basic framework for information-sharing for the recruitment of blue-collar workers in specified sectors to work in Japan, which is in need of more foreign workers due to a rapidly aging population and low birthrate.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is scheduled to visit Japan later this month to discuss the details.
Japan on April 1 implemented the visa system to bring in more foreign workers to the country, marking a major policy shift from its traditionally strict immigration rules.
Foreigners with certain Japanese language and job skills can now apply for a resident status called Specified Skilled Worker No. 1, which grants working rights in 14 sectors, such as construction, farming and nursing care, for up to a total of five years.
Proficient laborers in two sectors — construction and shipbuilding — can further extend their stay by earning the Specified Skilled Worker No. 2 status. It allows holders to bring in family members and has no limit on the number of times they can renew their visa.
So far, Japan has signed such MOCs with the Philippines, Nepal, Mongolia, Cambodia and Myanmar. It is still negotiating with China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
“We are working with the Japanese government to formulate an MOC on sending workers to Japan as they have opened up 14 sectors to foreigners,” said a Malaysia government official familiar with the negotiations.
“We are hoping to sign it in Japan in July. It’s in the final stages, hopefully it can be done,” the official said.
The two sides have not yet agreed on which sectors will be open to Malaysian workers, the official said, adding that the plan could potentially open up 50,000 jobs to the country’s nationals.
As to why Southeast Asian country is attracted to the program, the official said that although the government in Kuala Lumpur is making efforts for the Malaysia economy to become more advanced, it also believes the government must support those willing to go abroad to earn a better salary.
The official said that a small study found that Malaysians are willing to upgrade their skills to join any sector open to them in the visa system, adding, also, “They are excited, as the higher starting salary is a major draw.”
An official at the Japanese Embassy in Malaysia said that the country is full of friendly people who like Japan. “It would be great if they could work in Japan,” the official said.
According to data from the International Labor Organization, about 1.4 million Malaysians from among a total population of about 29 million people work abroad, the majority in neighboring Singapore and smaller numbers in Australia and the United States.
Despite the prospects of higher salaries in Japan, there have been concerns recently about harsh working conditions of foreign trainees, with a government survey revealing such problems as being paid less than the minimum wage, the risk of accidents and suicides.
To address fears of exploitation, the Japanese government has issued an ordinance requiring employers to pay wages equivalent to or higher than those of Japanese nationals. Their payment should be made directly to the workers’ bank accounts so that the records will serve as evidence they are properly paid.
Entities that want to hire foreign workers must clear requirements such as not allowing the involvement of brokers who collect large sums from foreigners seeking to work in Japan.