Helping hand for immigrants

Hope seen in plan to promote Japanese-language education, visas

Under the plan, the rights of immigrants, defined by the U.N. as people who live outside their home country more than 12 months, would be bolstered and efforts made to make life more convenient for them here.

Those already in Japan would receive the same benefits as those who hope to live in Japan.

Under the plan, a law banning racism would be enacted. The government would ensure immigrants receive the same public welfare services as Japanese do, encourage universities and vocational schools to accept more foreign students and strengthen Japanese-language education.

The conditions for granting foreigners permanent resident and long-term resident status would also be relaxed.

The plan still must be accepted by the ruling coalition and approved by the Cabinet.

If this happens, part of the plan that does not require legislative changes, including loosening conditions for permanent resident status, could take effect within a year, as Nakagawa proposed to the government.

Policies requiring new laws or revisions, such as an antiracism law, will have to clear the Diet. Sakanaka hopes the needed legislation will be enacted in three years.

Keiko Tanaka, director of the nonprofit organization Hamamatsu Foreign Children Education Support Association, praised the LDP members for the plan.

“Children are able to communicate in Japanese but have not reached the stage where they study subjects such as history and science in Japanese. That’s largely because they spend time in language classes, while other kids are pursuing those subjects,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka, whose NPO sends Japanese teachers to schools in Hamamatsu, hinted that schools may as well have poor-performing children repeat a grade, even though this is a rarity.

In addition to giving foreign children better educational opportunities, the plan would potentially give foreign workers more protection by making it easier to get permanent resident or long-term resident status, replacing the less-secure working visa.

Foreigners with working visas who are unemployed at the time they have to renew their visa are in theory illegal residents.

Louis Carlet, deputy general secretary of the National Union of General Workers Tokyo Nambu, said he wishes the plan had specifically done away with the current lump-sum pension payout that allows foreigners to recoup a fraction of the money they’ve paid into the system if they leave.

People have to pay pension premiums for 25 years to qualify for benefits when they turn 65. Foreigners who pay the premiums but leave Japan after working less than 25 years get a lump-sum amount, which increases proportionately up to only 36 months.

“The system basically means (Japan is) trying to send foreigners away in three years,” Carlet said.