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Japan immigration

Japan builders to crack down on illegal foreign labor

General contractors to monitor visa status and work credentials with smart cards

Japanese builders aim to avoid illegally hiring foreigners who are in the country on study-abroad or tourist visas.

TOKYO -- Japanese general contractors will digitally keep tabs on foreign workers' technical skills and visa status, seeking to avoid employing people illegally as the nation's doors open wider to blue-collar laborers from abroad.

The builders will create a monitoring system, revealed by Japan Federation of Construction Contractors Chairman Takashi Yamauchi, using a construction-industry worker database slated to fully launch this April. Foreign laborers entering sites will scan smart cards linked to information on their employment histories and skills, eventually expanding to include such information as residency status and passport numbers. Yamauchi is chairman of general contractor Taisei.

The federation's roughly 140 members are expected to put together the monitoring system based on the database, set up by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and a construction-industry foundation. With more foreign workers to be welcomed under legislation set to come into force this April, the builders aim to create a safe and stable system for taking them in.

Centralizing the monitoring of foreign-worker data aims to help make sure that builders do not employ people who entered Japan on sightseeing or study-abroad visas. It is expected to make it easier for highly skilled workers to receive appropriate pay, a measure seen helping alleviate the labor shortage facing Japanese companies. The monitoring mechanism will also track whether workers are participating in social welfare insurance, helping improve the treatment of foreigners relative to locals.

As of autumn 2018, Japanese construction sites employed about 46,000 members of the country's technical internship program for training foreigners. There have also been time-limited special measures since fiscal 2015 to expand hiring of people visiting on "designated activities" visas to handle a demand influx related to efforts like facilities construction for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. About 4,250 foreigners were working in Japan on designated-activities visas as of fall.

Cases have occasionally emerged of foreigners working here with using forged documents, having entered Japan on study-abroad or other visas after going through shady intermediaries. Such illegal employment, if left unchecked, is feared to help worsen the work environment for foreigners as well as drag down wages across the construction industry.

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