The Japan Pension Service has told municipal governments to end automatic waivers for pension premiums for foreigners on public assistance. The automatic waiver allowed foreigners, like Japanese nationals, to forego the monthly premium on their pension when receiving public assistance. The change in policy means that thousands of foreigners will no longer automatically receive a full waiver for the required premium payment into the national pension system. Instead, foreigners must now apply to receive the waiver.

This change does little to rectify what is often a confusing process for welfare applicants, especially those who are permanent residents, official refugees or spouses of Japanese. In cities such as Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where 24,000 foreigners live, or Nagoya with 63,000 foreign residents, the additional form will be one more hurdle in the process of applying for welfare. The paperwork may be relatively simple, but municipal officials will face additional work and applicants one more obstacle to receiving help.

While officials in the health and welfare ministry have noted that this change will not affect a large percentage of foreigners, some people near the income level cut-off for receiving assistance will likely have to start paying part of the premium. That may pose a financial burden that some welfare recipients cannot shoulder.

Beyond the actual numbers, the new rule divides welfare recipients into two groups according to nationality. The welfare ministry argues that the full premium waiver applies only to those paid under the public assistance law, meaning only Japanese nationals. Foreign residents cannot automatically receive the waiver because their status is different, the ministry has now concluded. Why it is now important to separate recipients according to nationality after 58 years of doing otherwise is not entirely clear.

The purpose of public assistance is to ensure that all those living in Japan do not fall below basic living requirements. That assistance should be considered an investment in society and the economy, which means an investment in humans and workers. That process should be overseen and regulated, but applied equally for all.

Whatever the actual reasons for this change, which the ministry did not seem forthcoming about, the positive benefits of this change remain in doubt. Asking a group of people to fill in one more application form, even if that group is small, is not a solution to the problem of public assistance or future pensions, much less the current economic conditions that make it difficult for some families to fully support themselves.

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