In Japan as in Spain: failure of voluntary reentry scheme

Nikkei South Americans guest workers offered $3,000 to go home and not come back Tokyo – 28 April 2009. In the midst of a full-swing recession, the Japanese government – as the Spanish one had done before – has decided to encourage Latin American immigrants to resign from their job and return to their home country, in an effort to ease pressure on domestic labour markets and the unemployment rolls.

Under the emergency program, introduced this month, the country’s Brazilian and other Latin American guest workers are offered $3,000 toward airfare, plus $2,000 for each dependent.

Those who apply for the repatriation programme will not be allowed to reapply for a work visa, but would be able to return only as tourists.

The program is limited to Japan’s Latin American guest workers, whose Japanese parents and grandparents emigrated to Brazil and neighbouring countries a century ago to work on coffee plantations.

In 1990, facing a growing industrial labour shortage, Japan issued thousands of special “Nikkei” work visas to descendants of these emigrants. They quickly became the largest group of foreign blue-collar workers in an otherwise immigration-averse country, filling the so-called three-K jobs (kitsui, kitanai, kiken — hard, dirty and dangerous).

Of the hundreds of thousands of “Nikkei” Brazilian, Peruvian and other South American guest workers currently living in Japan, only around 100 workers and their families have thus far accepted the offer, reveals the New York Times.

The same disappointing response was obtained by Zapatero’s “plan de retorno”, a similar scheme adopted promoted by the government in Spain, where the unemployment rate reached 15.5 percent. The Spanish repatriation programme however allowed to reclaim their residency and work visas after three years.

Harsh criticism towards the Japanese scheme has put the government under pressure to allow returns. Officials have said they will consider such a modification, but have not committed to it.

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