Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Prospect for Nepalese migrant workers in Japan

On December 25, the Japanese government approved measures aimed at ensuring that foreign workers under its new visa system have proper working conditions and access to support mechanism for adjustment. It includes a plan to set up about 100 consultation service centers that will provide information and services related to employment, medical services, childcare, and education. The centers will provide assistance in 11 languages. 

Earlier this month Japan’s parliament endorsed a new law to allow foreign workers in 14 industrial sectors facing acute labor shortages (thanks to declining population). The government will create two new visa categories for workers from nine countries— Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam— for employment in restaurants, hotels, nursing care, building cleaning, agriculture, fishery, food and beverage, materials processing, industrial machinery, electronics and electric machinery, construction, shipbuilding, vehicle maintenance, and airport ground handling and aircraft maintenance. 

The government expect up to 345,150 foreigners to acquire the new residency status in the first five years. There are industry specific guidelines that stipulate the maximum number of foreign workers to be accepted (60,000 in the nursing assistant sector and 53,000 in the restaurant business). No.1 type of residency status is for workers with certain level of knowledge and experience (basic Japanese language, pass language and skills test), and No.2 type of residency status is for workers with higher skills level. The first type of residency is valid for up to five years and workers will not be allowed to bring in family members to Japan (the cap on foreign workers mentioned above applies to this type of visa category). The second type of residency has no such restrictions and also doesn’t have limit on renewal of visa. Hiring for No.1 type will being in April/May 2019 and for No.2 type in 2021.

Previously, working visas were granted to people with high skills such as doctors, professors, lawyers and teachers. Workers with low skills usually came on trainee (technical interns type) visas that needed to be renewed periodically. 

It is a good news that Nepal is also included in the list of nine countries from where Japan will bring in foreign workers, which are sorely need in low skilled jobs and in rural areas facing manpower shortage (plus for the expected stimulation of economic activities in the lead up to and during Tokyo 2020 summer Olympics). Now, Nepal needs to ensure that middlemen are kept aside (usually, workers pay hefty sum to agents in Nepal and are saddled with debt for the rest of their uncertain stay and work in Japan) as it participates in the new scheme. Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono is visiting Nepal in the second week of January 2019. It will be a good opportunity to seek for an early G2G deal on foreign workers so that hiring of Nepalese workers for Japanese companies is fast, more and without much hassle. Nepal government should also work on preparing potential migrants for the Japanese market by facilitating skills and language training. Ultimately, this should help in increasing formal sector remittance flows from Japan to Nepal. 

The number of migrant workers to Japan who took labor permit from government is declining: FY2016: 3844; FY2017: 2251; FY2018: 761.

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