More OFWs do well in Japan
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Koji Haneda (The Philippine Star) - February 20, 2020 - 12:00am

I suppose that many Filipino households are no stranger to the familiar sight of having a family member or two employed as OFW in another part of the globe. In this day and age, even in the most unexpected of places we can find OFWs doing well in their respective fields. Filipinos who uproot themselves from the familiar and brave foreign soil just so they could secure a better future for their families.

This is particularly true for OFWs in Japan. Filipinos comprise about 10 percent of the 2.8 million foreign nationals living in Japan as of the end of June 2019. They rank as the 4th largest foreign nationality group across Japan, next to Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese. Many of these Filipinos came to Japan as part of our government’s Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) or as nurse and care worker candidates under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA). Recently, I was told of one Filipina who has been working at a care facility in Kochi Prefecture for about five years now. According to her, the personal life and work she has in Japan are both fulfilling, surrounded by many friends and loaded with learning opportunities every day. She shared that despite the cultural and lifestyle differences, Filipino nurses and care workers are favored by patients and care facility residents owing to their kind, friendly and distinct Filipino care. She even finds herself often personally preferred by more patients over her Japanese counterparts. This good reputation developed by Filipinos in hospitals and care facilities in Japan is one thing that sets them apart.

It is for this reason I believe there is more room for OFWs to play a role in Japan. In close proximity to each other, our two countries should be able to expand our cooperation in the area of human exchange even more. Taking into account Japan’s aging society and the Philippines’ abundance of competent young labor force, I do think this demographic complementarity between us could create lasting impact that would ultimately cascade not only to our economies and industries but also to human resource development.

Faced with these population dynamics, Japan’s National Diet passed a law amending immigration control and refugee recognition in December 2018 to introduce the new residency status called Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) for foreign nationals. The Philippines and Japan signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in March 2019, well ahead of other partner countries in Asia, to establish a basic framework that would ensure the smooth facilitation of sending and accepting SSWs from the Philippines.

The SSW residency status is comprised of two classifications. SSW (i) consists of 14 job categories including care worker; building cleaning management; machine parts and tooling; industrial machinery; electric, electronics and information; construction; shipbuilding and ship machinery; automobile repair and maintenance; aviation; accommodation; agriculture; fishery and aquaculture; manufacture of food and beverage; and food service. It allows foreign workers to be employed in middle and entry-level skilled jobs for a maximum of five years. Former trainees under the TITP who completed more than 3 years of training, as well as successful passers of the Japanese language test and corresponding skills test are eligible to apply for this new residency status. Required Japanese language and skills tests are continuously being conducted in Japan and the Philippines, while acceptance of applications from Japanese companies that will employ Filipino workers under this residency status is ongoing at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office in Tokyo. I am particularly pleased that there are already approximately 3,000 Filipinos who passed these tests as of the end of last year. Moreover, workers in the construction and shipbuilding industries are given the chance to acquire SSW (ii) once they pass more advanced levels of the skills test, permitting them to bring in family members and apply for unlimited renewals.

With this scheme, I anticipate that many workers from the Philippines will benefit from this new window of opportunity and call Japan as their second home. Japan puts a premium on the quality of work and tremendous amount of effort OFWs exert in delivering the kind of service Filipinos are well known for. This year, my hope is that more and more Filipinos will make their way to Japan, maximizing their immense potential and contributing to the ever-growing strength of Japan-Philippines relations.

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(Koji Haneda is the Ambassador of Japan.)

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