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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

Cabinet team formed to help foreign settlers


Staff writer

The Cabinet Office has formed a team to address problems facing out-of-work foreigners with permanent settler status, particularly Brazilians, including job searches and their children's education.

The team of six, established Jan. 9, is trying to compile countermeasures as wide-scale job cuts at manufacturers have had a huge impact on these immigrants, Cabinet Office official and team member Yasuhiro Omori said.

It is asking local-level authorities, including in the cities of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, which have many manufacturing factories, what kind of support is needed, he said.

It is also asking ministries and other government organizations what measures they are taking so it can develop an efficient overall strategy for the foreigners, most of whom were hired by companies as nonpermanent workers, he said.

It has yet to decide when it will compile the measures, Omori said. Yuko Obuchi, state minister for population and gender equality, will be in charge, he added.

Permanent settler status is granted to foreigners of Japanese descent, Japanese who as children were left behind in China after the war and others with extraordinary circumstances. Permanent resident status is given to foreigners who have lived in Japan for a certain period and meet other criteria.

Brazilians of Japanese origin are eligible for permanent settler status, making it easier for them to work in Japan than other foreigners, who have to acquire a work visa, which involves employer sponsorship.

Brazilians with permanent settler status numbered 153,141 in 2006, accounting for 57 percent of 268,836 permanent settlers that year, according to the Justice Ministry. However, their children often have difficulties at public schools due to language problems, so many families opt to send them to private Brazilian schools.

Late last year, manufacturers began cutting foreign and Japanese temporary workers amid the stalling economy, forcing them out of company dormitories and cutting off the income needed to send their children to expensive private Brazilian schools, or even inexpensive public schools.

Prior to the downturn, companies had increased their hiring of foreigners on a temporary basis as a cheap and disposable labor source. The number of foreigners working as nonpermanent workers totaled 167,291 in June 2006, compared with 91,367 in June 2001, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Hidenori Sakanaka, director general of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute, an independent think tank, hailed the Cabinet Office's move.

"Permanent settlers and residents do not have to leave Japan even if they are unemployed (as opposed to those on a work visa), so the government must look after them as they do with unemployed Japanese," Sakanaka said.



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