Picture: AP/Itsuo Inouye
Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan from 2006 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2020, died from a shotgun last 8 July. His sudden death left many Japanese people in shock and mourned. Foreigners inside and outside Japan are no exception. A lot of them pray for him and thank him for the policies he made during his government.
During his career, Abe did a lot of internationalization to improve foreign tourists, investors, students, and workers’ life experiences in Japan. To honor his contribution, let's look back to Japan a couple of years ago. What government programs during Abe's time benefited foreigners in Japan?
New Visa for Specified Skilled Workers
To cope with worker shortages since the 1990s, Japan has revised its immigration law multiple times. The Japanese government under Abe created a visa regulation to allow more foreign workers to come to Japan in November 2018. The rule, which started in April 2019, is that Japan's immigration will issue a new visa or residence status category called Specified Skilled Workers.
Specified Skilled Workers (特定技能 - Tokutei Ginou) visa is meant to bring work-ready employees to join industries in Japan that are in severe worker shortage. They receive different life and work support from licensed companies as oftentimes, their Japanese level is not advanced. The government planned to accept 345,000 foreign workers in five years after this visa was created.
Nursing care workers are on demand in Japan
Specified Skill Workers can stay in Japan for up to 5 years. Their visa is renewable once a year, 6 months, or 4 months. They can't take their family to Japan as a dependent visa holder. To apply for this visa, you must be over 18 years old.
This program offers various jobs in 14 industries. These sectors are suffering the most from labor shortages.
Nursing Care and Building Cleaning Management under the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare
Machine Parts & Tooling Industries, Industrial Machinery Industry, Electric, Electronics and Information Industries under Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry
Construction Industry, Shipbuilding and Ship Machinery Industry, Automobile Repair and Maintenance, Aviation Industry, Accommodation Industry under Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism
Agriculture, Fishery & Aquaculture, Manufacture of Food and Beverages, Foodservice industry under Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
To ensure all participants are ready to work, they must pass the skill standards examination and Japanese language test. A designated Japanese organization conducts the test, so the test is the same in every country. If you have completed Technical Intern Training Program (ii), you are exempted if you want to switch residence status to SSW in the same field.
As of September 2021, there are 38.337 workers in Japan under SSW visas. More than 60% of them are Vietnamese. People from The Philippines, China, Indonesia, and Myanmar are in the top 5 after Vietnam. Machine Parts & Tooling Industries, Electric, Electronics and Information, and Manufacture of Food and Beverages are industries with the highest percentage of acquired target.
JENESYS Exchange Program
Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths, or shortened JENESYS, was created during Abe's first term as Prime Minister. He announced the program at the 10th ASEAN-Japan Summit and the 2nd East Asia Summit in January 2007.
This project aims to build reciprocal trust and understanding among the Japanese and the Asia-Pacific youths. Students from countries in Asia-Pacific are invited to learn about Japan's economy, society, history, culture, politics, and diplomatic relations and build friendships and connections with Japanese people.
Picture: JAIF/ASEAN Secretariat
Participating countries are ASEAN member countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar), India, China, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand, SAARC member countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Afghanistan), etc.
This fully funded project was started in 2007 and has continued as JENESYS 2.0 since 2013. Thanks to this program, tens of thousands of students and youths could visit Japan, live with host families, and have the time of their life.
The program is 5 to 10 days long. Participants gathered in Tokyo or Osaka before grouped in multinational groups and headed to other prefectures or cities. They visited local institutions related to their group discussion topic. This way, participants could experience various cultures and lifestyles in Japan, from the modern pop culture to the more traditional ones.
Multilingual Assistance in Public Services
Before the SSW visa was created, the foreign workers' community had grown in Japan since the 1990s, albeit very slowly. The language barrier was a big problem. Foreign residents struggled to go to the doctor, handle tax, immigration, or health insurance, and get emergency help.
The multilingual assistance continued growing during Abe's term due to the government's plan to welcome many foreigners through SSW visas and tourists for Tokyo Olympics 2020. Japan must be ready to accommodate them, ensuring accessibility to public services such as hospitals and transportation.
In 2012, Japan Medical Education Foundation initiated Japan Medical Services Accreditation for International Patients, or shortened JMIP. This accreditation aims to ensure healthcare accessibility for foreign residents and tourists. The hospitals in Japan were encouraged to provide multilingual service assistance and correspondence with patients' cultures and religions.
In 2015, the Council for Promotion of Foreign Direct Investment in Japan created a strategy to attract foreign investors to Japan. Five of their missions covered language issues; they are:
– providing multilingual store signs
– attaching a standardized QR code to products to provide product information in multiple languages
– creating 30 base hospitals with medical interpreters and healthcare coordinators speaking foreign languages by 2020
– providing multilingual menus in restaurants popular with foreigners
– ensuring that facilities not yet complying with the Japan Tourism Agency's 2014 guidelines for improving multilingualization on the roads and public transportation do so by 2017
– developing multilingual speech translation by communication devices to encompass ten languages by 2020 (INVEST JAPAN 2015).
English option at train ticket machine (Picture: watchamahkulit)
Nowadays, the Japanese government provides crucial information in multiple languages. For example, information about disaster mitigation is available in 15 languages, and coronavirus vaccination information is in 16 languages. There are also multilingual coronavirus hotline services. Some inoculation spots even provide interpreters to assist you through the whole process.
Pandemic Financial Aid
At the end of his reign, Abe has to face a pandemic. The economy was affected by closed borders, canceled international flights, the state of emergency, and mild lockdowns. Hundreds of thousands of workers in Japan lost their jobs, mainly in the food service, retail, and tourism industry.
In early April 2020, the Prime Minister announced the government would give financial aid to Japanese residents. A total of an astounding 108 trillion yen ($989 billion) was prepared for various projects. It was equal to 20% of the country's economy. There are cash handouts for families and small businesses, welfare loans with zero interest, and tax breaks.
While it seems super helpful, there are still some critics that the requirements to apply for some of these benefits were hard. However, there was one benefit that was given to all Japanese residents. They were eligible for a 100,000 yen cash handout. No requirement, no matter if they are locals or foreigners, regardless of their financial situation.
This program meant a lot to foreigners in Japan. Many lost their full or part-time jobs during these uncertain and troubled times. Receiving his consideration and the same benefit as locals left a good impression on them.
The longest-serving Japan's prime minister is no doubt impactful for so many lives. His legacies will continue to live in Japanese society. This article is our way of paying homage to Abe's government. Rest in peace.
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