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Triple-winning Expanding Acceptance of Human Resources


『International Development Journal』 2019 September edition

Toshihiro Menju
Managing Director and Chief Program Officer, Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE)

The Government of Japan revised the Immigration Control Act and began accepting foreigners with a new status of residence “specific skills” in April 2019. In the blue-collar field, which has traditionally depended on technical intern trainees and international students, it is the first time that foreigners are accepted for employment. Introducing the views of Toshihiro Menju, Managing Director and Chief Program Officer, of Japan Center for International Exchange (JCIE), regarding future prospects and issues.

The new Immigration Law

Until now, the decline in population has been considered a “Japanese national crisis”, but the acceptance of foreigners has been treated with the image of “immigrants = potential criminals”, and neither the country nor the media has taken it up in earnest. The reality is that the population decline is further accelerating. In 2018, the Japan Center for International Exchange established a “Round-table Conference on the Acceptance of Foreign Human Resources” with Mr. Takaji Kunimatsu, the former chairman of the National Police Agency as a co-chair, discussing the issue from a medium- to long-term perspective.
The new Immigration Law, which took effect in April 2019, has decided to accept and create a new status of residence as a specific skill aimed at working in blue collar fields in response to the shortage of manpower. In addition, a special skill No. 2 has been established that allows excellent people to settle down with their family members. These are the right directions to open the way for settlement.
At the end of 2018, the government also announced “Comprehensive measures to accept and coexist with foreign human resources”. This position shows foreign residents as residents, and the government, which has traditionally relied on policies by local governments and NPOs, has been fully involved. As long as the population continues to decline, it will not be temporary, but will last forever.
However, one step ahead should be considered in order for excellent foreigners to become established and play an active role. We are proposing the establishment of a “Basic Act for Foreign Residents”. This law will require foreigners to be positioned as members of society and to clarify the responsibilities of national and local governments for foreigners living in Japan.

Foreign residents doubling in 30 years

It is necessary to take a new look at the reality and understand the situation once again with the new government policy. First, I want to think about what happened in the 30 years of Heisei. The number of foreigners residing in Japan was 980,000 in 1989, and nearly 70% were Korean residents in Japan. However, it has now increased to about 2.7 million, and the nationality and status of residence have diversified. This is about 2% of the total population, comparable to that of Hiroshima Prefecture.
However, during this time, the government regarded foreigners as temporary residents, and the response to them has been thrown out by local governments and citizens in a situation that can be said to be a “policy blank”.
It is strange that there are people who have been living in Japan for 10 years who cannot speak Japanese. In the absence of a policy for 30 years, taking Japanese Brazilians as an example, there is a generation that grew up with both Japanese and Portuguese insufficient languages skills called “double limited” generation. There is already the fact that their children have been raised in Japan and are struggling with poor language skills and learning capacity.

Regional revitalization with no results

On the other hand, the population of Japan will decrease by about 2.3 million in the 2010s, and by the 2020s it is predicted that the number will decline by 5.5 million, far exceeding the population of Shikoku. The rapid decline in population as the population continues to age, is related to the sustainability of Japanese society, itself. Looking at the population in 2017, the Japanese population decreased by about 400,000, while the number of foreigners increased by about 180,000.
Recently, a mayor in Yamagata Prefecture visited me. Although local promotion measures have been continuing for decades, the decline in local population is only getting worse. Although regional assistance are being poured into the nation by 1 trillion yen a year, the birth rate has not increased and results have not been achieved. I wanted to increase the number of foreign residents, but I was asked to discuss how to increase them.
Once there was a concern that the security would worsen if the number of foreigners increased, but that view is changing 180 degrees. The crime by foreigners peaked in 2005 and has now decreased to about one third.Complementing the absence of government policy so far is a multicultural project by region. There is a certain foundation for accepting foreigners as residents. Many municipalities have more than 20 years of experience.

Challenges in Japanese language education

On the other hand, in Korea and Germany, the language education in the country is conducted by the government. In Japan, the Agency for Cultural Affairs is in charge of teaching Japanese to foreigners, but the budget is only about 200 million yen per year.
It is also encouraging that “plain Japanese” is spreading to Japanese society in various places. Foreigners died in the Great East Japan Earthquake due to the mis- communication in Japanese language. It is difficult to understand the Japanese language for “Please evacuate to the hill with difficult Chinese characters”, but it is said that if you “Please evacuate to a high place in plain Japanese”, you could understand and evacuate. Local governments such as Yokohama City are promoting training to teach plain Japanese for employees who deal with foreigners. Companies should also consider introducing plain Japanese. Japanese companies should respond flexibly to accept foreigners, so that excellent human resources can be gathered.
The countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are also developing their economies, and eventually the scale of the economy will exceed that of Japan. For this reason, there is a high possibility that competition for searching for human resources will intensify in Asia. In order to acquire human resources with diverse abilities, Japan needs to build an internationally competitive acceptance system.
For the time being, inflows of workers from Southeast Asia will continue, but in the 2030s, the number of South Asian and African students will increase. People in Southeast Asia have a high affinity with Japanese society, but the future is at a critical moment. In the meantime, it is important to change the Japanese consciousness and create a social acceptance base.

Sending messages to the international community

I think we can make a model in a more positive way in relation to Asia. Unlike traditional one-way international cooperation, in order to realize a sustainable society in developing countries and also Japan together, new triple-win model should be introduced, which will benefit the sending country, Japan and people who are sent from developing country to Japan.
Japanese farmers in particular are now aging with an average age of 67 years old, and the sustainability of rural areas in Japan is jeopardized. I would like to create a model that integrates international cooperation and international exchange by continuously linking specific Japanese rural areas with specific rural areas in developing countries and between them continuous exchange human resources will take place. It is desirable to accept foreign human resources by in the Japanese region as a whole while transferring technology to developing countries. The trainees should have a choice to stay in Japan or return home while they will continue to help their home country by connecting both regions and transferring their experiences to the younger generation. It is recommended that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) draw and propose such a “triple-win” cooperation model. While Japan’s regional sustainability is at stake, I would like to present such triple win model which is unique to Japan’s interactive international cooperation model.
The opportunity for foreign media coverage has greatly increased as the Japanese government’s policy on accepting foreigners has changed. This is because, while the world is becoming more “anti-immigrants”, the changes in Japan, where they were reluctant to accept immigrants before, are perceived as bright news that brings hope to the world. Changing unpopular and sometimes inhuman technical intern training to a new model should be considered. Then Japan can send a more positive message to the international community with the policy of accepting foreigners under its vision.
Historically Japan has not closed the country and not rejected foreign cultures. Japan, an island country, has developed by accepting different cultures and visitors, and has developed social, cultural and technological innovations based on their wisdom. That is Japanese DNA. I think that accepting foreign cultures and foreigners is what Japan should do.

***** 以下、日本語原文 *****

(公財)日本国際交流センター執行理事 毛受 敏浩

日本政府は出入国管理法を改正し、2019 年 4 月 から新たな在留資格「特定技能」による外国人の受け入れを始めた。従来、技能実習生や留学生に依存していたブルーカラーの分野で、就労目的の外国人受け入れは初めてだ。今後の展望と課題について、(公財)日本国際交流センター執行理事の毛受敏浩氏の見解を紹介する。












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