February 25, 2019
A Clear ‘No’ to Unprepared Immigration Policy
By NAGASHIMA Akihisa
The immigration policy, which determines the number of foreign workers to be accepted, must be discussed very carefully because, needless to say, it is a critical issue that could change the future of the country. Of course, we cannot blind ourselves from the fact that Japan is facing a serious issue, depopulation, while there are already over 1.3 million foreign workers in Japan. 40% of them are ‘trainees’ of Technical Intern Training Program, and exchange students on part time jobs, and we should not let them work any longer as cheap labor under a pretext of ‘international contribution’ or ‘education.’ Even so, the proposed revision to the immigration bill that would shape the future of Japanese society shall not be passed quickly, only with a few days of discussion. It must require at least years of national discussion, which would be as serious as of the constitutional amendment, therefore I clearly voted ‘no’ to the revision of the immigration bill this time.
We hear the business community are crying for help due to lack of labor force in suburban cities. But we shall not leave a source of calamity for the future with a makeshift. While there is a voice of labor force shortage, and most of the department stores and small businesses are struggling, the convenience stores for example, are heightening the competition by opening new stores and expanding the business intensely. Instead of Japanese people who do not like the tiresome, cheap-waged works, the exchange students are filling the gap with low wage and overwhelming tasks. In such case, based on the market principle, the wage should be raised at once to the level which appeals to Japanese laborers, or the investment be made to more self check-outs or the store with no operator, to supplement the labor shortage. If not, the opening hours and/or the plans of new openings should be shortened.
The excessive services started during the bubble economy era were not sustainable in the first place, that the need for it to be decreased in accordance with depopulation is a foregone conclusion. By filling the gap forcibly with the exchange students and trainees, it is harming their lives and health. Such atrocious reality revealed during the Diet session this time, however, was the result of the system we---Members of Diet---created. So we all are equally responsible and must search our conscious for it, regardless of ruling or opposition, thus it was not fair at all that some opposition party used it to attack the government.
Therefore, one of the major focus of the immigration policy revision this time was, how to correct the current, distorted Technical Intern Training Program. But the government did not introduce a reasonable, specific plan against the malicious brokers in the emigrating countries, or for assisting the improvement of working environment and living support by Japanese companies. The biggest problem was that the government was not able to answer clearly at all to the biggest national concern -how many foreigners would be coming? There might be or might not be the pressure from the business community, the government was not able to clarify the cap for the number of people to be accepted. If cohabitation with foreigners in Japanese society be considered seriously, ‘total number regulation’ of work permissions cannot be left undiscussed.
To deal with the depopulation, especially of the working age, I personally think making the society smarter is the first measure to be taken; for example, there should be more opportunities for women and elderly, as well as revolutionary improving productivity, there should be vast investments to the research on artificial intelligence, robots, and self-driving cars. I worry that trying to fill the labor force shortage temporarily and carelessly with the foreign population, it will only lead us to a social division, a path Europe has once come and now struggling from it.
Besides, the foreign workers to come to Japan are not just a part of economy labeled as ‘labor force.’ They are humans, just like us Japanese, who have feelings. They first need a language skill to live in Japan, living support, as well as health insurance and social services. Notwithstanding, Japanese language schools are concentrated to the cities, while there are already over 500,000 foreigners living in where there are no language facilities. The number of Japanese language teachers are definitely shorter than needed, and nearly 60% of existing teachers are volunteers, yet it is irresponsibly dealt as the new official licensing system to improve the quality of Japanese language teachers to be considered from now on.
In any case, what kind of people from which country we accept to our country is a core issue to the national sovereignty. Therefore we must adequately make choices and control it under a strict rule. Once we accepted the foreigner, the government should be responsible for good services, needless to say, their basic human rights, living support, health insurance, including their family’s. This is the matter of Japan’s dignity, the pride of the nation and people. Therefore I shall continue to deal with the immigration issue seriously.
(This is an English translation of the article written by NAGASHIMA Akihisa, Member of the House of Representatives / former State Minister of Defense, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu (Hundred Views in Full Perspective)” of GFJ on December 26, 2018.)