Japanese-language Proficiency Requirements for Foreigners
Wednesday, February 20, 2008 Posted: 10:44 AM JST
The Japanese government is considering to require foreigners who want to work in Japan to have proficiency in Japanese before they enter Japan. This is imminent. Officials aim to reach a tentative conclusion by the end of March. During a press conference of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan on February 12, Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi answered questions about this contentious new initiative.
Q: Good afternoon. I have questions regarding the immigration laws. In France, our government, as well as Japan, is at the moment thinking about granting visas to people who get language skills first. I heard there is the same kind of project in Japan. For France the aim is really to lower immigration entries. What are the motivations for Japan, and what kind of visas will it be? Is it for long-term residents or is it for short-term residents?
Mr. Taniguchi: Speaking of people from France, many people in Japan are being reminded of two outstanding individuals: Carlos Ghosn and Philippe Troussier. Those people are not going to be required to undergo any linguistic test or examination. They can come to Japan and start working instantaneously. The same applies to other professionals like bankers, dealers and traders who would find job opportunities in Tokyo's central district, in the financial center.
The idea is to open the entry door a little bit wider to other categories. By "other" I mean other than professionals like bankers or coaches of professional football, and so on. That said, the idea is still hotly debated at the intra-government level, especially between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But we are not spending that much time. We are going to come to a tentative conclusion sometime by the end of March. But how soon we can implement that is going to be a matter of the pace and tempo with which we can solve minute details about what sort of arrangement can be provided to what sort of people. So I am not sure how soon we can implement this program, but that is basically the situation.
Q: When you say it would not concern bankers or automotive company CEOs, then what kind of jobs or what kind of population are you talking about?
Mr. Taniguchi: Well, even in terms of professionals or people with some kind of expertise - suppose, under the current framework, you have got to prove you have in the past 10 years' worth of work experience as a consultant, let's imagine. Then, the idea is not to de-incentivize those people from coming to Japan, but incentivize those people to come to Japan. Therefore, probably, the entry barrier is going to be lowered from 10 years to five years depending on the linguistic skill you have. So that applies to the professionals, people with expertise. For those in other categories, people engaged in rather more simplistic kinds of work, it will affect the easiness for them to enter Japan if the applicant can prove that he or she is capable in the Japanese language.
Q: Some people say this measure is also part of the wish of Japan to take care or protect itself against some terrorist actions or things like that. Is this kind of motivation behind it, like knowing better who is coming into your country?
Mr. Taniguchi: That is not necessarily the case. The Japanese Ministry of Justice already started to require bio ID when non-Japanese visitors enter Japan - you probably have gone through the same procedure, like fingerprinting or face photo. The idea of that initiative, of course, was to check the inflow of people so that any dubious potentially terrorist sort of people could not come into Japan. So that is more to do with preventing those people from entering Japan.
But the linguistic part, the language initiative, is rather to incentivize people not only to come to Japan, but also to feel more relaxed in their working conditions and environment. The two initiatives are totally different from one another.
Q: I just have a last question, and then my colleagues could ask you questions as well. Japanese is not an easy language, like I would say French is not an easy one as well. Don't you fear that asking people to have linguistic skills in Japan is going to have people say, "OK, I will go someplace else," and not try to come to Japan.
Mr. Taniguchi: That is the last kind of scenario that the Japanese Government wants. Therefore, we have to stress once again, and again and again, that the new initiative is not to dis-incentivize people from coming to Japan, but to incentivize, encourage people from abroad to come to Japan. So the idea is, if you speak Japanese it will be made easier for you to find job opportunities in Japan. So that is the basic outline.
Q: In terms of language skills, what kind of level are you thinking about?
Mr. Taniguchi: It is another matter of concern. It is one area that we have to spend a lot of time on, because at the moment the Japan Foundation is conducting the language examination only once a year or so. The frequency is much less than would be required. But we have to work together with the Japan Foundation, which is the body implementing the linguistic examination. So, ranging from that to many other minute details, we have to work out many things in order for it to be implemented.
* * *