Japan’s government recently passed a law that will give work visas to hundreds of thousands of low-skilled foreign workers as it tries to replenish a rapidly shrinking workforce. The country, which has historically seen itself as culturally and ethnically homogenous, has a deeply ambivalent attitude toward immigration, and the new law is drawing its fair share of controversy. Opponents say it’s too vague. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe insists the workers who enter Japan under the new law will be there only temporarily, sparking concerns it risks making immigrant workers second class citizens. Regardless, it is a major immigration overhaul in all but name, say observers.
In the midst of this national debate, the public is waking up to the ongoing exploitation of low-skilled foreign workers, mostly from developing Asian countries, who come to Japan through a government-run training program. The program enables around 250,000 foreigners to work in Japan. But each year, thousands of trainees flee harsh conditions to go underground.
Quartz News gained access to a shelter housing a number of these trainees and documented their claims of abuse. Critics says the program offers a cautionary tale and urge the government to come up with long term plans to help foreign workers fully integrate into Japanese society.