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Japan immigration

Japan's foreign worker program to pass Diet Friday

Opposition lawmakers make last attempt to block hasty vote

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answered opposition questions about the visa program in an upper house committee. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai)

TOKYO -- Japan's parliament is expected to enact a bill Friday that expands the country's intake of foreign workers amid a labor shortage, despite objections from opposition lawmakers who want more careful deliberations.

The bill, which would create new visa categories for foreign workers, has already been approved by the lower house. The ruling coalition is set to hold a vote in an upper house plenary session for final approval Friday, with plans to kick start the program in April.

The Diet's upper house debated the bill for six hours Thursday, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answering questions for two hours. Opposition parties reiterated their concerns about the current internship program, which has drawn fire as a source of cheap labor for labor-starved companies. Many intern workers are expected to switch to the new visas once the program starts.

"I understand the problems," said Abe, adding that his government "intends to look into the matter thoroughly under Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita."

The Constitutional Democratic Party, the Democratic Party for the People and other opposition parties were not convinced. When the upper house's Committee on Judicial Affairs proposed a vote on the bill, opposition lawmakers countered it by submitting a resolution to dismiss the committee chairman, Shinichi Yokoyama. The opposition also is considering a censure motion against Yamashita.

The ruling bloc led by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party is expected to vote down the motion against Yokoyama along party lines Friday before holding a vote on the visa program in the committee and then in the full upper house. 

The foreign worker bill would create two new types of visa status for new arrivals. One would grant five years of residency to those who possess a certain degree of skills and Japanese language ability. The other visa, granted to highly skilled foreign workers, would be renewable and let those individuals bring family members with them.

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