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Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012
Municipalities battle to cope with pension waiver change
By MIZUHO AOKI
Municipalities hosting large foreign populations are scrambling to process their welfare benefits after receiving instructions from the Japan Pension Service to end the uniform pension premium waiver for foreigners on public assistance.
The government-linked body that runs the public pension system said that it informed local pension offices of the policy change in early October. As of Wednesday, however, municipalities were handling foreigners on welfare differently depending on the length of time it took them to receive the information through pension offices and local governments.
Previously, both Japanese nationals and foreigners on welfare automatically received the full waiver for the Kokumin Nenkin premium. However, a new guideline issued by the Japan Pension Service states that foreigners on welfare must now also fill in an application form in order to receive the pension premium waiver.
The health ministry said foreigners on welfare can still receive the pension premium waiver by submitting an application form at local offices and that, in reality, most people won't be affected by the issuance of the new guideline.
But some municipal officials said this depended on an individual's annual income and some foreigners would have to start paying part of the annual premium fee, which is about ¥180,000.
The city of Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture, where some 24,000 foreigners lived as of September, still hadn't received any formal notice of the policy change from the Japan Pension Service as of Wednesday morning, a city official said.
"We heard about the guideline yesterday from a local pension office (unofficially). . . . We need to contact JPS. Until today, we've handled such cases the same way as before," Motohiro Shirai, a municipal official in Hamamatsu, told The Japan Times on Wednesday. "We are now considering how we should handle (foreigners on welfare benefits)."
More than 880 foreigners in Hamamatsu received public assistance in September, and many of them are believed to be Brazilian, Shirai said.
Meanwhile, the notice from the Japan Pension Service arrived at the Nagoya Municipal Office as early as September, according to a city official.
Nagoya, which hosts about 63,000 foreign residents, changed the way it handles foreigners on welfare benefits from around mid-September and now asks them to submit application forms for the pension premium waiver.
"We never recognized that foreigners on welfare benefits are not eligible (for the universal waiver). I believe most municipalities have been handling the cases the same way we did," said Takenori Hashiguchi, a Nagoya official.
"I think it is best if (foreigners) are also eligible (for the full pension premium waiver)."
Because the guideline only applies to new applications by foreigners seeking welfare, many municipalities haven't decided what to do with foreigners who already receive welfare, according to the welfare ministry.
The ministry will come up with a policy after reviewing details with municipal governments.
But because foreigners on welfare can still receive the pension premium waiver by submitting an application form, the health ministry says that, in reality, most people won't be affected by the issuance of the guideline.
"Generally speaking, people on welfare have little or no income. Based on that, I believe many people will be eligible for the full waiver of the pension premium," said Hideaki Kikuchi, an official at the welfare ministry.
An income ceiling for receiving the full premium waiver is different depending on household composition and other conditions, Kikuchi said. According to a model example by the Japan Pension Service, the income ceiling for a household with four family members is ¥1.62 million, while the ceiling for a single household is ¥570,000.
The public assistance law stipulates that only Japanese nationals are eligible for welfare. But in practice, some foreign residents are receiving public assistance benefits because of a humanitarian decision by the welfare ministry in 1954.
Because the national pension law stipulates that the full premium waiver applies to people on welfare benefits paid under the public assistance law, it only applies to Japanese nationals, according to the welfare ministry.