Japan May Require Foreign Residents to Know Japanese (Update3)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Jan 16 14:40:14 UTC 2008

Japan May Require Foreign Residents to Know Japanese (Update3)

By Sachiko Sakamaki and Toko Sekiguchi

 Jan. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Japan may consider requiring long- term
resident foreigners to have local language ability, Foreign Minister
Masahiko Komura said today, without saying to what degree the language
would have to be learned. Komura said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Ministry of Justice plan to start discussing the possible
requirement. Komura didn't say when the meeting would take place or
provide further details on which residents might be affected. Japan's
mulling of a language requirement may hint at preparations to accept
-- rather than reject -- more migrants, said Hidenori Sakanaka,
director of the Japan Immigration Policy Institute in Tokyo and
formerly head of the Justice Ministry's Tokyo immigration office.
Officials realize that Japan's aging society and pending labor
shortage obliges them to boost immigration.

``I think this is a preparation for that,'' Sakanaka said. ``It's a
global trend to require language ability for immigrants to integrate
them into society.''  Japan's labor force will shrink to 55.8 million
in 2030 from 66.6 million in 2006 if more women and the elderly aren't
allowed to work, according to a labor ministry report.

``This shows that the government and business circles want to increase
foreign workers,'' said Ippei Torii, secretary general of Solidarity
Network with Migrants Japan, an advocacy group for foreign laborers in
Tokyo. A language rule, however, may prevent some workers from coming
and may force non-Japanese speakers to leave, he said.

`Quality of Life'

Komura said officials may not necessarily deny foreigners long-term
residency just because they have no Japanese language ability.
Establishing language as one criterion for residency would improve
foreigners' quality of life in Japan and encourage foreign students to
learn Japanese abroad, he said.

``There are positive and negative aspects'' of a language requirement,
Komura said during a press conference in Tokyo today. ``Because there
may be more positive aspects we're going to consider it.''

Wenzhou Song, 44, a consultant who founded the Tokyo software company
Softbrain Co., said a language rule shouldn't exclude talented people
from immigrating.

``It's a very difficult line to draw,'' he said. ``It makes sense to
require long-term residents to speak the local language but you can't
make the requirement too harsh or you will discourage people who want
to come to Japan.''

Song spoke little Japanese when he came to Japan from China as a
student in 1985, he said.

On Nov. 20 Japan began fingerprinting and photographing foreigners
entering the country to prevent terrorism.


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