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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

LIFELINES

Working holidays and Amerasian roots


Mareen, an 18-year-old German citizen, spent three weeks in Japan, loved it, and now wants to come back.

"I thought about working as an au pair. But I can't find an agency that cooperates with Japanese families. I'd like to visit in July or August, and would like to stay for six to 10 months. How can I find a family? Or is there some other way to visit Japan again?"

Mareen, you won't find such an agency because no such thing exists. Japan does not have an au pair system, whereby a young person takes on duties in a home such as housework, language exchange, or looking after children in exchange for room and board. Like baby-sitting, housekeeping and even cleaning, it is still a largely alien notion in a culture where families have traditionally stayed close and helped one another. Now search the Web site www.newaupair.com and prove us wrong.

Homestays, however, are an option here, particularly with families that have lived abroad or traveled extensively. And there are agencies, or education-linked organizations, that can help. The following link is helpful: www.studyabroadlinks.com/search/Japan/Homestay_Programs/index.html.

It is also still commonplace to find maids and housekeeper-cum-nannies — largely from the Philippines and Thailand — employed by expatriate families in Tokyo. However, what used to be quite liberal rules regarding such helpers have recently been tightened up, and the requirements for being granted a maid visa are now very stringent. No one can enter Japan without a sponsor, and the paperwork is lengthy and involved.

A far easier way you can stay in Japan is on what is called a "working holiday." My own daughter did this in 1988 (from the U.K. to Australia), and she had a ball, seeing much of the country, experiencing 12 jobs (from grape-picking to working as a hotel maid) in 12 months — all of which she quickly decided she never wanted to do again — and even meeting her Canadian husband.

The Working Holiday Programme in Japan is for citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Korea, France, Germany, the U.K., Ireland and Denmark. You can stay for up to a year at a time on a special working holiday visa, which allows you to work while at the same time experiencing life in Japan. Personally, I think this is your best bet. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has all the details at www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/w_holiday/index.html.

Jimmy Edwards, who is based in the Philippines, has started a petition — at www.petitiononline.com/subic73/ — designed to help Amerasians with roots in Japan and elsewhere. The aim of the petition is to ask the U.S. Congress to revisit the Public Law 97-359 Act passed in 1982, which Jimmy claims discriminates against a group that deserve to be American citizens.

"Is a child fathered by a U.S. citizen from Japan or the Philippines any less deserving of U.S. citizenship than a child fathered by a U.S. citizen in Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Laos or Cambodia?" asks the petition.

Jimmy writes: "If you can make Japanese Amerasians aware of this petition, I'd really appreciate your help."

Jimmy's main purpose in life is to help Amerasians find their predominantly American fathers and sometimes Filipino mothers. But he gets inquiries from many countries, including Japan. His Web site is at amerasianslookingtheirroots.bravehost.com.

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