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Japan Immigration

Foreign workers should be taught Japanese, say lawmakers

Proposed legislation mandates companies to send employees to school

A bill being developed would make educating foreign nationals in Japanese a national obligation.

TOKYO -- Japanese legislators have drafted a bill requiring the government to ensure that foreign workers receive an adequate language education, such as by providing subsidies to localities assisting in such efforts and companies putting them on their payrolls.

A cross-partisan group of lawmakers crafted legislation setting rules for Japanese education for foreign workers, defining language teaching as a government duty for the first time. They will meet by the end of the month to endorse the bill for submission to parliament, aiming for passage during the current session.

The effort comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government looks to take in more foreign workers to ease the country's labor shortage. The legislation aims to create more opportunities for them to learn the language and ensure a smooth transition into the national workforce.

Currently, foreigners working in Japan under the technical intern program are not guaranteed sufficient opportunities to learn the language. The language barrier could prevent them from performing high-level tasks and leave them unequipped to communicate and solve problems with neighbors. 

Businesses that hire foreigners would be obligated to send those workers to language schools, or bring in specialists to teach Japanese on their own premises.

The move comes in response to growing concerns from localities that they will be forced to bear the onus of teaching Japanese to the mounting numbers of foreign hires. The proposal would share the burden with the corporations that benefit from the labor. Both local authorities and employers will get funding from the national government for the task.

To upgrade the quality of language schools, their oversight will be shifted from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. The government will also set up a cross-agency commission to streamline policy coordination.

Right now, some schools are geared toward teaching foreign students just enough Japanese to perform part-time work. The government will evaluate language schools and categorize them based on whether they teach Japanese for everyday conversation, business settings, university learning and the like.

The government has submitted a bill to create two new visas for low- and high-skilled workers, with plans to start the program next April. This multiparty caucus has been calling for a language education for foreign workers since 2016.

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