Statement on the Amendment to the Immigration Law

As a union with a high percentage of irregular foreign workers, General Union strongly opposes the revision of the immigration law presently being discussed by the Diet which will make it easier to revoke the permanent residence status of foreign residents in Japan.

The law extends the reasons for which the status can be revoked, including arrears with taxes, pension payments, and health insurance payments; according to some reports, even failure to carry your resident card at all times may lead to revocation. While opposition parties got an agreement that action would only be taken in “deliberate” cases of arrears, it is not at all clear what this means in practice.

This policy has been tacked onto a revision to set up a new “worker training system” aimed to satisfy employers’ demand for unskilled foreign workers in industries with labour shortages. The reasoning between this and an attack on the rights of the existing 890,000 permanent residents is unclear. We believe the government is attempting to railroad through this bill with insufficient discussion, and is providing spurious evidence in order to do so. 

The Immigration Services Agency of Japan claimed on May the 8th that “roughly 10% of permanent residents” had not paid their taxes or social insurance premiums. This is deliberately misleading. No such survey of permanent residents exists. The agency used a survey of applications for permanent residence status that found 12.8% had not paid some taxes or social security premiums. However, since applications for permanent residence from those with arrears are rejected, it is not at all clear where the 10% figure comes from.  A closer inspection of the figures showed that out of 235 cases of arrears, 213 of them are arrears in the payment of National Pension (Kokunin Nenkin.)

Arrears with Kokumin Nenkin are quite common amongst all irregular workers, whether foreign or Japanese. Figures for 2020 showed that there were 1,150,000 people with at least 24 months arrears. In fact, although they face none of the problems of irregular workers, there was a major scandal in 2004 when a number of prominent politicians were found to be in arrears with their pension premiums. At the time, former Prime Minister Abe described a survey sent to politicians by media outlets about pension arrears as “a witch-hunt.” How would you describe the government’s attempt to revoke the permanent residence status of foreign workers with Kokumin Nenkin arrears?

As a union, we have fought for many years to get workers enrolled in the better Shakai Hoken system, where pension payments are deducted directly from wages. We have repeatedly come across cases where employers attempt to avoid enrolling their workers in this system to avoid paying the employers’ contribution. In order to do so, employers in some cases have lied to their employees, telling them they do not need to be enrolled in government health insurance and pension schemes. In some cases, they have even sold workers what was essentially the company’s own travel insurance schemes in collaboration with insurance companies, telling their workers that it was sufficient. 

The solution to the problem of arrears for both existing Japanese and foreign residents, as well as any new residents who may enter Japan on “worker training” systems, is to force employers to enrol all workers, regardless of how many hours they work, into the Shakai Hoken system. The government is already moving towards reducing hour and company size limitations on who can be enrolled in Shakai Hoken.

We believe that this proposal scapegoats some of the most vulnerable sectors of workers, threatening them with loss of their permanent residence status and possible fracturing of their families. Making permanent residence less attractive may also paradoxically result in greater arrears. On the other hand, a number of former prime-ministers of Japan were punished with only an apology and two years’ back payments. Is this a case of one law for workers and another for those running the country? There is no need to use amendments to the immigration law in order to solve this problem.

A. We resolve to work with other unions and citizens groups defending foreigners’ rights, such as Ijuren or Rink (Kansai), and to to oppose the passage of the bill.

B. Should the bill pass, as a union we resolve to:

1. Lobby ministries for the revision of the law.

2. Write to opposition parties to commit to the revision of the changes.

3. Provide support and assistance to union members and other workers fighting attempts to revoke their permanent residence.

4. Continue actively campaign against this change in the law.

5. Step up our campaigning to increase enrolment in Shakai Hokken, and for the government to carry through more external audits to enforce it.