Japan to Foreign Workers: 'Here's Money, Now Go Away'

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-04-24 Print this article Print

Oh, Japan. How you make Americans cringe with shame in your protectionist ways.

Descendants of Japanese emigrants from Latin and South America, namely Brazil, are being told by the government of Japan that they will pay them to leave and go back to their home countries. Many of these people were born by Japanese emigrants who moved abroad in the past for work, and so have direct ties to Japanese culture through their families.

Now they are being told, thanks for playing, here's a little coin for airfare, have a nice life. And if you take the door prize, your visa is void. So you can't ever come back to work here. Thanks for playing!

One Japanese government official, Jiro Kawasaki, a senior lawmaker of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was quoted in The New York Times as saying: "We should stop letting unskilled laborers into Japan. We should make sure that even the three-K jobs are paid well, and that they are filled by Japanese," he said. "I do not think that Japan should ever become a multiethnic society."

The three-K jobs refer to "kitsui, kitanai, kiken -- hard, dirty and dangerous," mostly in manufacturing, which is going through very hard times in Japan, and most parts of the world.

I understand to a point that the recession and major collapses in the export economy are causing most countries to revisit immigration policies, especially in labor markets. But this idea of saying to people who've settled in your country for a long time to get out comes off as a low blow and racially driven nonsense.

The controversy over foreign workers, H-1B and L1 visas is certainly stirring a whole lot of protectionist emotion right here in River City, USA. But for a country like Japan that prides itself on not laying off employees, this one comes off as a very strange and potentially damaging policy. It's especially odd given that Japan initiated some programs for jobless foreign workers recently. From the Times article:

The plan came as a shock to many, especially after the government introduced a number of measures in recent months to help jobless foreigners, including free Japanese-language courses, vocational training and job counseling. Guest workers are eligible for limited cash unemployment benefits, provided they have paid monthly premiums.

"It's baffling," said Angelo Ishi, an associate professor in sociology at Musashi University in Tokyo. "The Japanese government has previously made it clear that they welcome Japanese-Brazilians, but this is an insult to the community."

It could also hurt Japan in the long run. The aging country faces an impending labor shortage. The population has been falling since 2005, and its working-age population could fall by a third by 2050. Though manufacturers have been laying off workers, sectors like farming and care for the elderly still face shortages.

Oh, recessions. They make some governments say and do the darndest things.

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