Japan pays foreign workers to leave


JAPAN HAS responded to a growing unemployment crisis at its recession-hit factories by offering thousands of foreign workers cash to return home – and not come back.

The programme, aimed at heading off what the government called “a growing social problem” will mainly be targeted at South Americans working at car giant Toyota, and its subsidiaries.

Unemployed assembly workers will be allowed to apply for non-returnable loans of 300,000 yen (€2,296 ) to leave the country, said an official from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, who denied it was, in effect, a repatriation scheme.

“We’re responding to requests from the workers themselves,” said ministry spokesman Tatsushi Nagasawa. “These are people who can’t speak Japanese and will find it difficult to find work. How will they feed their families?”

Workers who take the offer, which includes an additional 200,000 yen (€1526) per family member, will not be encouraged to return, said the ministry. “We’re not saying they should never come back, just not while the economy is bad.”

Thousands of Brazilians and Peruvians – mostly descendants of Japanese who immigrated to South America – work on temporary contracts at Toyota and other factories. Many have been forced out of work by the recession, which has decimated Japan’s export industries.

Toyota recently posted its first loss in 70 years and will shutter 11 local plants for three days this month. Brazilians make up more than 40 per cent of the foreign population in Toyota City, home to the car giant – local agencies say over 100 Brazilian nationals are leaving the city per month, with many more stranded, unable to pay for basic services or even living on the streets.

Strict controls have kept Japan’s foreign population at a fraction of its total population – less than two per cent. The country has been often criticised for its fortress-like immigration policies, but some experts support the latest plan, saying it will ease the plight of struggling foreign families.

“The government isn’t kicking people out. A lot of these people have asked for help to get home,” says Yoshimi Kojima, a university lecturer who researches foreign migrants. “Their situation is really awful.”

Koiichi Nakano, a political scientist at Tokyo’s Sophia University, however called the move “cynical”. “It appears as if the government is trying to deport foreign workers before they commit crimes. It certainly is cheaper than more humane alternatives – like providing them with proper public shelter and giving them unemployment benefits.”

Mr Nagasawa said he was unable to elaborate on what sort of problems could be expected if the workers were allowed to stay. “It’s difficult to say what might happen but it probably won’t be pleasant.”