Using what has been described as “strong-arm tactics,” Japan’s ruling Liberal Democrat Party pushed legislation through the Diet (Japanese parliament) early last month to expand the nation’s guest worker program. Even with Japan’s extremely low unemployment rate, the law is controversial. A Dec. 17 poll found that 55 percent of people in Japan opposed the law. But that apparently did not bother the ruling Party because it rammed the bill through the Diet rather build broad public consensus on the need for change. That’s not unlike how the ruling elites in the United States have pushed through guest worker programs that are detrimental to American workers.
Japan created its guest worker program -- The Technical Internship Trainee Programme -- in 1993 as a way of helping people from developing countries learn new skills they could use when returning home. But it was soon criticized as being filled with loopholes that allowed companies to abuse its terms, pay less than the minimum wage, and make workers put in unpaid overtime. If any of this sounds familiar it’s because this is exactly what happened to the U.S. Exchange Visitor program.
Japan’s guest worker program started out small but grew exponentially over the last decade. In 2008 Japan had only about 490,000 guest workers. The number grew to 1.3 million by 2017 amid increasing public dissatisfaction.
Aware of public opinion and the blowback from previous foreign worker increases, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a plan this week that allegedly will reign in fraud and help the workers fit into Japanese society more smoothly. That remains to be seen but Abe highlighted these claims instead of his decision to add 345,150 guest workers over a five-year period - a 27 percent increase. The legislation did not limit the number so the decision was entirely his.
The new visa system allows foreign workers to apply for two new resident statuses -- the "No. 1" type for people who are relatively unskilled, and the "No. 2" type for work that requires higher skill levels. Japan had never formally allowed in the unskilled so his plan will add foreign workers to previously unserved industries. Those with No. 1 status can work for up to five years but not bring family members. Those granted No. 2 status can renew their visa indefinitely and bring their family.
To crack down on fraud, the plan requires employers to provide evidence that they never fired Japanese workers in an effort to hire guest workers. They also must pay salaries equivalent to those of Japanese workers doing the same tasks. U.S. guest worker programs also have “safeguards” that are regularly circumvented by unscrupulous employers.
The plan also provides for the creation of “consultation centres” to help guest workers with things like securing accommodations and setting up bank accounts.
That’s not enough for some in Japan. Kosuke Oie, who heads up the guest worker committee of Japan’s Federation of Bar Association, said “It is good that the government is setting up consultation centres and will help foreign workers…but we want them to do more to protect the rights of people in their workplaces and in broader Japanese society.” Oie is concerned that the new system will repeat the mistakes under the old system, and be exploited by unscrupulous overseas hiring brokers. This is exactly what happened under the U.S. H-1B program. Even the hiring of American tech workers in the U.S. is controlled by overseas brokers.
The South China Morning Post interviewed a skeptic of the new plan who also was a lifelong supporter of Abe’s Party. Ken Kato said, “The government has bent far too much to the demands of the business lobby when the economy is strong, but we all know that the economy will not always be this strong and we will find ourselves with thousands of foreign workers and not enough jobs for Japanese people…When we look at European countries – France, Britain, Germany – that have let in tens of thousands of immigrants from other countries…I think the danger is clear…We need to look after our own first and foremost.”
Granted, Japan’s unemployment rate is at its lowest in 25 years, but Abe’s government is being criticized for moving too quickly and not sufficiently preparing for a large influx of foreign workers. The government is, as one editorial notes, not showing any sign that it has learned anything from the experiences of other countries. It’s just responding to the private sector demands to bring in more workers.
That brings us back to guest worker situation in the U.S. Our unemployment rate is not nearly as low as Japan’s but that does not stop the constant drumbeat for more foreign workers. Businesses want more unskilled H-2B workers and skilled H-1B workers and don’t care how it affects American workers. And they will be the first to fight changes to clean up fraud and abuse.
Unfortunately, there are too many in Congress like their Japanese counterparts. They’re willing to sell out American workers in back-room deals rather than have a public debate on how guest worker programs hurt American workers.
It’s our job at NumbersUSA to expose these back room deals and promote an informed public debate. And since there will likely be more guest worker battles in 2019, we will continue to empower you to fight back. Please know we’re grateful you’ll be fighting alongside us.
And with that, I would like to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year.
Updated: Wed, Jan 16th 2019 @ 12:30pm EST