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Japan Diet passes controversial immigration bill

Staff Writer | December 11, 2018
Japan's national Diet concluded a 48-day extraordinary session on Monday with 13 bills passed, including a controversial immigration legislation to allow for more foreign workers, while discussions about the first-ever amendment of Japan's pacifist Constitution advocated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were delayed.
Shinzo Abe
Asia   Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
"There is no change in my hope to see a new Constitution take effect in 2020," Abe told a press conference Monday at the conclusion of the Diet session in which the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) failed to present its amendment proposals.

Abe, who is also president of the LDP, proposed in May 2017 to have the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution revised to specifically mention Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF).

"By making explicit the status of the SDF in the Constitution during our generation's lifetime, we should leave no room for contending that the SDF may be unconstitutional," the prime minister said then, adding that he wants to see the new supreme law take effect by 2020.

Abe had called for the LDP to present its constitutional amendment proposals to the parliament during the extraordinary Diet session that started in late October for further discussions.

However, a stand-off between the ruling and opposition parties over a new immigration bill made it difficult for the ruling party to push forward the sensitive discussions over amending the Constitution.

Japan's ruling bloc only managed to "bulldoze" the immigration bill through the parliament in the early hours of Saturday amid staunch resistance from the opposition parties, who accused the bill of being vague and having not received sufficient deliberation.

Under the new legislation, two new resident statuses are expected to be created from next April, granting working rights to foreigners in sectors that suffer severe labor shortage, including construction, farming and nursing care.

Critics of the legislation said that it failed to specify the types of jobs the foreign workers would engage in and would give the government too much freedom to decide details later through ministerial ordinances without parliamentary debate.

There are also concerns that the lack of detail in the bill could create loopholes through which foreign workers could be exploited.

"The bill was passed at a time when the country's foreign technical intern training program had drawn much criticism," said Goro Takahashi, a professor at Japan's Aichi University. The program, set up with the intention to transfer skills to developing countries, has been criticized as a cover for importing cheap labor, and there have been many reports about foreign interns working long hours under harsh environment and having very low payment.

"The foreign technical intern program needs a thorough review, and the government should have stricter supervision over employers of those foreign interns and give them more guidance," said Takahashi.