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As Japan Tries Out Immigration, Migrant Workers Complain Of Exploitation

NPR, Japan, 15 January 2019 - The wind howls and snow drifts around a house in Koriyama, in northeastern Japan's Fukushima prefecture. The town is inland from Fukushima's coastal areas that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown.

Inside the home, several Vietnamese laborers prepare dinner. The house is a shelter, run by local Catholics, for foreign workers who are experiencing problems in Japan.

One of the workers is surnamed Nguyen. He came to Japan in 2015 as part of a government program for technical trainees. He asked to use only his last name, as he doesn't want his family in Vietnam to know what he's been through.

He says he paid the equivalent of about $9,200 to a Vietnamese broker and signed a contract with a private construction company in Koriyama, Japan, to get on-the-job training as a rebar worker.

"I expected to come to a country more developed, clean and civilized than my own," he recalls. "In my mind, Japan had many good things, and I wanted to learn professional skills to take home."

Instead, he says he was ordered to do jobs such as removing radiation-contaminated soil from land around the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

"We were deceived," Nguyen says, referring both to himself, and technical trainees in general.

He would not identify the company by name so as to avoid undermining negotiations he and a workers union are holding with the firm to get compensation.

He says the company issued him gloves and a mask, but not the kind of gear that would protect him against radiation. He did receive a radiation detector to wear, but only before safety inspectors paid a visit. He complained to the company, which ignored him.

Complicating matters, he had borrowed money from a bank and family members in Vietnam to pay the broker who helped him get to Japan.

"I wanted to sue my company, but I didn't know how," Nguyen explains. "I didn't speak Japanese, or understand Japan's legal system. So all I could do was be patient, and keep working to pay off the debt."

Technical trainees like Nguyen now account for about 20 percent of the 1.3 million foreign laborers in Japan, according to government data cited by local media.

The Japanese government intends to bring in 345,000 more foreign workers in the next five years, to staff sectors including restaurants, construction, agriculture and nursing. Many will come from nations such as China, Myanmar, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Japan has both the world's third-largest economy, and fastest-aging population. It also faces an acute labor shortage. Now, it is doing something previously unthinkable: allowing immigration — even as its prime minister denies it.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/15/683224099/as-japan-tries-out-immigration-migrant-workers-complain-of-exploitation

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