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Japan Immigration

Japan eyes fast access to phone and bank services for foreigners

As more workers arrive from abroad, 100 help centers will be set up nationwide

The Japanese government plans to set up around 100 help centers nationwide to support foreigners in their daily lives. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- Japan will take measures to help workers from abroad meet essential needs in their everyday lives ahead of an influx expected next year to address the nation's labor shortage.

The government will ask mobile phone companies to let foreign workers sign service contracts if they show their residency cards, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a speech Sunday in the southern city of Fukuoka. The top government spokesman also suggested that opening bank accounts and finding housing information will be made easier.

"This is an age in which foreign talent can choose the country they want to work in," he said.

Around 100 help centers will be set up across Japan to support foreigners in their daily lives, Suga said. Roughly 2 billion yen ($17.7 million) will be earmarked in the budget proposal for next fiscal year covering related costs, including interpretation systems.

Japan's parliament passed a bill on Dec. 8 that will create a new foreign worker program to help address labor scarcity. The country's doors will be opened to blue-collar laborers in a major policy shift in April 2019.

Legislation intended to prevent abuse of public medical insurance programs will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session that convenes next month, Suga indicated.

Currently, family members of foreigners working in Japan are covered by insurance even if they live abroad. But in light of concerns that this provision could strain the nation's finances as more foreign workers arrive, eligibility likely will be limited to dependents residing in Japan.

The government also will increase monitoring of Japanese-language schools to prevent incidents in which foreigners enter Japan to study but find work and stay without authorization.

"We need to resume on-site inspections to check whether [foreigners] are receiving a proper education," Suga said.

These measures are among initiatives being devised this month by Japan's government for receiving foreign talent.

The central government will allocate financial aid to local governments, which bear the responsibility of supporting relations between longtime residents and foreign workers. The money is expected to fund events for promoting interaction between locals and foreign employees as well as establishing help desks that refer jobs and hospitals to those workers.

The central government also will support efforts to connect local governments with foreigners seeking employment in Japan, as municipalities look to fill jobs that serve the influx of tourists from abroad.

These efforts to boost areas outside big cities will include measures for Japanese people as well. Those who move from central Tokyo to rural areas will receive 3 million yen -- around $26,450 -- if they launch new companies or 1 million yen if they join small or midsize businesses. These proposals will be presented Tuesday during a meeting at the prime minister's office on regional revitalization measures.

However, more Japanese oppose than support the government's decision to receive up to 345,000 foreigners over five years starting in April for fields experiencing a severe labor shortage, according to the latest survey by Nikkei/TV Tokyo.

Forty-eight percent were against the policy change, approved by Japan's parliament this month, while 40% favored allowing the increase in foreign workers.

Respondents split along gender lines. Among men, those in favor outnumbered those against 47% to 44%, but 53% of women opposed the policy compared with just 31% in support.

The poll also found that younger people were receptive to the new labor policy while those 40 and older largely rejected it. Those ages 18-39 favored the change by a ratio of 56% to 38%. But those in the 40-59 age group disapproved, 52% to 39%. Support dwindled to 35% among those 60 and older, while 52% opposed the policy.

The survey was conducted by Nikkei Research through random-digit dialing from Friday to Sunday, receiving 990 responses from those 18 and older for a response rate of 46.3%.

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