Sunday, August 16, 2009

Migrants in Japan & Korea

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Japan. There are 2.2 million registered foreigners in Japan, including up to 200,000 foreign trainees and interns. There are also 110,000 unauthorized foreign workers, down from the peak 300,000 in the early 1990s.

Since 1990, nikkeijin, descendants of Japanese emigrants to Latin America a century ago, were allowed to enter Japan to work; most found jobs in smaller factories supplying major Japanese exporters. In 2009, there were an estimated 366,000 Brazilians and Peruvians (workers and families).

As the nikkeijin were laid off in 2008-09, there were contradictory policy responses. The government allocated a billion yen ($10 million) for Japanese language and vocational training in an effort to retain some of the nikkeijin. However, in April 2009 the labor ministry began offering 300,000 yen ($3,000) for each nikkeijin adult who left, and another 200,000 yen for each dependent who departed, provided they agreed not to return to Japan.

Researchers and migrant advocates denounced the return-bonus program, saying that Japan needed to open its borders and integrate foreigners because of low fertility. However, senior political leaders say that they prefer a high-wage smaller and more productive society to a multi-ethnic society like the US.

Japan in June 2009 enacted legislation that within three years will shift responsibility for managing foreign residents from municipalities to the central Immigration Bureau. Foreigners can now receive five-year "zairyu" cards that expedite their travel in and out of Japan. Legal foreigners must be registered on the Juki Net, the nationwide resident registry network that lists data on all Japanese residents in each municipality. Failure to report changes of address or employer within three months can lead to expulsion from Japan.

The number of unauthorized foreigners will be reduced by clarifying the circumstances in which they can receive permission to stay legally, which is expected to bring some forward.

Korea. The number of foreign residents in Korea rose from 50,000 in 1990 to a million in 2008. Between March 2008 and March 2009, employment in Korea fell by almost 200,000 and the unemployment rate rose toward four percent. Some laid-off white-collar workers were reportedly seeking jobs that had been considered migrant jobs, including working in fisheries and in agriculture.

The government took steps to reduce the employment of foreign workers, lowering the intake of foreign workers under the Employment Permit System from 72,000 in 2008 to 34,000 in 2009. Some 60,000 migrant workers are on recruitment lists seeking to work in Korea. Korea has MOUs with 15 Asian countries under which migrant workers arrive under the EPS.

There were 480,000 foreign workers in Korea in February 2009, including 317,000 men and 163,000 women. Some 45 percent of the legal men had E-9 work visas for low-skilled work, while 88 percent of the legal women had H-2 work visit visas issued to ethnic Koreans in China. There were also 200,000 unauthorized workers in Korea, including 67,000 women. Another 109,000 foreign women married Korean men; many work on their husband's farms.

The 191,600 EPS migrant stock in March 2009 included 50,900 Vietnamese; 31,200 Thais; 30,300 Filipinos; 23,600 Indonesians; 18,300 Mongolians; 16,200 Sri Lankans; and 2,800 Nepalese. Over 91 percent of EPS migrants are employed in manufacturing.

Most foreign workers are employed in small firms, those with 30 or fewer workers. These small firms have seen their orders decrease during the recession; many responded by putting their migrant workers on standby, asking them to accept lower wages, or expecting them to do more work for the same pay. Korean migrants admitted under the EPS are entitled to the minimum wage of 3,770 ($3) an hour, but many, expecting to earn a million won a month with overtime, paid fees to recruiters anticipating higher-than-minimum wage salaries.

Korea has unions and NGOs that advocate on behalf of migrants. Laid-off migrants are permitted to remain in Korea for up to 60 days to search for a new employer. In spring 2009, most Vietnamese migrants who were laid off were able to find new Korean employers, given the reputation of the Vietnamese for hard work; many laid-off workers from other countries were less successful at finding new jobs.

Some migrants leave Korea before the end of their three-year EPS contracts. Filipino unions said that 5,000 of the 17,000 Filipinos sent to Korea under the EPS returned before their three-year contracts ended.

Many rural men in Korea marry foreign women from Vietnam, China and the Philippines— 40 percent of marriages in rural Korea in 2008 involved foreign brides.

Minoru Matsutani, "Immigration revision set to be passed," Japan Times, June 19, 2009. Hiroko Tabuchi, "Japan Pays Foreign Workers to Go Home," New York Times, April 23, 2009.

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