Japan Pays Foreign Workers to Go Home
By HIROKO TABUCHI
HAMAMATSU, Japan — Rita Yamaoka, a recently jobless mother of three, faces a heart-wrenching decision. The Japanese government has offered to pay thousands of dollars to fly her family home to Brazil.
But if she takes the money, Mrs. Yamaoka and her husband, Sergio — a Brazilian national of Japanese descent — must agree not to seek work in Japan again.
The repatriation offer is part of a new drive to encourage Japan’s sizable pool of Latin American factory workers to leave the recession-wracked country.
“I tell my husband that we should take the money and go back,” said Mrs. Yamaoka, 36, her eyes teary after a town hall meeting where local officials laid out the terms of the program.
“We can’t afford to stay here much longer,” she said. “I feel immense stress. I’ve been crying very often.”
Mrs. Yamaoka and her family settled in the industrial town of Hamamatsu, in central Japan, three years ago, at the height of Japan’s export boom. But in recent months, both she and her husband have lost their auto factory jobs.
The Yamaokas are undecided on whether to leave. But at least 100 Latin American workers have agreed to leave Japan on the understanding they will not return, according to Japanese officials.
Critics denounce the program as short-sighted and inhumane, and a threat to what little progress Japan has made in opening its economy to foreign workers.
“It’s a disgrace. It’s cold-hearted,” said Hidenori Sakanaka, director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute. “And Japan is kicking itself in the foot… we might be in a recession now, but it’s clear it doesn’t have a future without workers from overseas.”
Japan’s repatriation offer is limited to the country’s Latin American guest workers, whose Japanese parents and grandparents emigrated to Brazil and neighboring countries a century ago to work on coffee plantations.
In 1990, Japan — facing growing industrial labor shortage — started issuing thousands of special work visas to descendants of these emigrants. An estimated 366,000 Brazilians and Peruvians now live in Japan.
The guest workers quickly became the largest group of foreign blue-collar workers in an otherwise immigration-adverse country, filling the so-called three-K jobs (kitsui, kitanai, kiken — or hard, dirty and dangerous.)
At the packed town hall meeting in Hamamatsu, immigrants voiced disbelief that they would be barred from returning. Angry members of the audience converged on town officials. Others walked out of the meeting room.
“Are you saying even our children will not be able to come back?” one participant shouted.
“That is correct, they will not be able to come back,” a local labor official, Masahiro Watai, answered calmly.
Claudio Nishimori, 30, said he was considering returning to Brazil because his shifts at a electronics parts factory here were recently reduced to three days a week. But he felt anxious about going back to a country he had left so long ago, he said.
“I’ve lived in Japan for 13 years. I’m not sure what job I can find when I return to Brazil,” he said. But his wife has been unemployed since being laid off last year, and he can no longer afford to support his family, he said.
Others have made up their minds to leave. About 1,000 of Hamamatsu’s Brazilian inhabitants left the city before the aid was announced. The city’s Brazilian elementary school closed last month.
“They put up with us as long as they needed the labor,” said Wellington Shibuya, who came to this industrial city six years ago and lost his job at a stove factory in October.
“But now that the economy is bad, they throw us a bit of cash and say goodbye.”
He recently applied for the government repatriation aid and is set to leave in June.
“We worked hard, we tried to fit in. Yet they’re so quick to kick us out,” he said. “I’m happy to leave a country like this.”
How's the saying go, something like "Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back"?