The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is essential to stably accept foreign workers and encourage them to adapt to society. Debate must be deepened over how businesses and local governments can prepare for that goal.
According to statistics released by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry this month, the number of Japanese citizens living in the country as of Jan. 1 declined by 430,000 compared with the previous year, marking a population decline for the 10th straight year. Affected by the declining birthrate, the working-age population is forecast to wane further in the future.
Even if employment opportunities for elderly people and women are expanded, opening the door to work-ready foreigners is an inevitable choice.
A new system to expand the employment of foreign people has been launched, as the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law was enforced in April. The number of foreigners who acquired specified skills for this new resident status is only 20, which is far lower than the figure originally anticipated.
There are only three industries in which proficiency tests are conducted, and conclusion of agreements on the new system with countries sending workers has been delayed. Criticism over the lack of preparation is inevitable.
Not a few companies feel that expenses paid to institutions for recruitment support, and complicated procedures, are a burden. There is also concern among companies that the foreign workers they employ may move to different jobs within a short period. The government should review the system to work toward dispelling their anxiety.
In their campaign pledges for the House of Councillors election, the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito have put forth measures to prevent foreign workers from being excessively concentrated in the Tokyo metropolitan and other urban areas. They have also called for the thorough management of the resident status system to prevent illegal stays.
Language skills key
There is great concern that labor shortages in regional areas will not be resolved, as foreign workers tend to converge in urban areas where wages are relatively high. It is necessary to provide foreigners with help wanted information for regional areas on a preferential basis and to spread information about the ease of living in these areas.
An unsatisfactory point is the lack of assistance for foreigners in getting used to community life.
The population of foreigners in Japan amounts to 2.66 million, exceeding 2 percent of the total population. In anticipation of a further increase, urgent steps should be taken.
Not only the ruling parties but also the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Democratic Party for the People have called for promoting “coexistence” with foreigners. For such measures, they have listed policies including setting up consultation service centers and providing information about administrative procedures and daily life in multiple languages. But there is no denying that they have stopped short of presenting adequate measures.
Above all, assistance in the acquisition of Japanese language skills is of paramount importance. It is necessary to expand regional learning centers and secure quality Japanese-language teachers. The government should actively commit itself to carrying out fiscal and other assistance measures.
It is essential to have foreign workers acquire necessary information on daily life, including how to sign up to the social security system and ways to dispose of garbage. It is also indispensable to be well aware of children who cannot understand Japanese sufficiently.
Foreigners will be able to fully display their abilities by adjusting to the communities where they live and the places where they work. It is imperative for the central government to take the initiative in steadily carrying out comprehensive assistance measures without entrusting the task to local governments and businesses.