Opposition lawmakers staked out battle lines Oct. 29 for the extraordinary Diet session now in progress by questioning plans for a new visa status to allow foreign manual laborers to reside in Japan for at least five years and possibly longer.
The haste with which the Abe administration has pushed what many view as an immigration initiative even raised eyebrows among members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over the marked lack of specifics.
Yukio Edano, the head of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, pointed to repeated claims by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that his administration would never introduce an immigration policy.
At the Lower House plenary session on Oct. 29, Edano took up the planned revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law and asked Abe to explain “how that differs from your repeated denials to never implement a policy to allow in immigrants?”
Yuichiro Tamaki, the head of the Democratic Party for the People, said the unwillingness of the government to offer specific data on how social welfare expenses would increase if more foreign workers were allowed entry rendered any proper discussion in the Diet impossible.
Abe stated that his administration was not introducing an immigration policy as defined as one whereby “the state allows entry to foreign nationals and their families with no time limit and at a certain level in proportion to the overall population.”
The LDP’s Judicial Affairs Division held a meeting on Oct. 29 during which the new work visa program was discussed for about four hours.
In past sessions, the division called for a cautious approach on grounds the program over the medium to long-term would fundamentally change the nature of the nation. At this point, questions centered on why the Abe administration was in such a hurry to implement the program from April 2019.
The main change would be to add a “specified skills” work visa allowing holders to remain in Japan for five years. Those considered to have advanced skills would be allowed to stay beyond the five-year limit and bring family members to Japan.
Concerns were raised at the Judicial Affairs Division meeting about instances of community tensions between foreign and local residents and crime related to those who overstay their visas.
The new plan to allow non-Japanese considered to have advanced skills to remain in Japan on a unlimited basis led to many LDP members to question whether that would lead to an increase in immigrants.
In the end, the division approved the government draft but with the caveat that it must implement the program under the most stringent terms.
It demanded that Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita attend the session and promise to implement the steps laid out in the resolution approved by the division.
Among the many questions raised by LDP members, one that was symbolic of the haste with which the program plan has been put together centered on areas that would be open to foreign nationals with the new work visa. While the central government is considering 14 business areas, such as construction, agriculture and elderly care services that all face a major personnel shortage, those specific fields will not be included in the bill to establish the new work visa.
Instead, once the bill becomes law, the Justice Ministry plans to issue an order defining which business sectors would be covered.
Faced with such vagueness, the Judicial Affairs Division in its resolution called on the central government to provide statistics on the extent of the personnel shortage in each business area.
Questions have also been raised about pensions and medical care expenses for the new foreign workers who come to Japan under the program.
The LDP’s Health, Labor and Welfare Division also held a meeting Oct. 29 at which it also passed its own resolution with 11 items that called on the central government not to rush into things and apply strict confirmation that social welfare premiums were being paid by foreign workers in Japan.