Saturday, September 28, 2013

Defining the "Unskilled"

We begin first by discussing the multiple perspectives from which the term “unskilled” may be interpreted within the subject of international migration.   The term may take on different meanings and implications when used by either the host state or the source state, and it is this varying application of the term by the three actors in migration (the host state, the source state, and the migrant) that we can find its significance to migrant “illegality.”

The implied meaning of the term “skilled” as it is used in migration is clear in that those who possess it are desired by destination countries because it guarantees that they will have jobs (read alternatively as “thus being productive members of society” or “not becoming charges of the state or perceived “burdens” to its social welfare system”).  The “highly-skilled” are not only desired but actively pursued as the perspective of value, and thus the skill’s primary beneficiary, shifts from the possessor to its utilizer:  while skill powers the migrant’s stability and financial future, “high-skill” ensures that the state stays relevant or globally-competitive or even the leader in key industries.

Almost intuitively, the “unskilled” worker is thought to be the opposite of the “skilled” worker, reducing the variable to a simple dichotomy.  Others see skill as a continuum, thus going beyond the skilled-unskilled dyad and into a low-, mid- and high-skilled range of worker classifications.

Yet the multi-faceted problematic of the term “unskilled” begins when we see that beyond just possession or non-possession of a skill (dichotomy view) or possession of a skill to a certain degree (continuum view), we also wonder who assigns the classification or, more accurately, whose assignment of classification matters?  In migration, the answer to this question is, of course, the State.  The migrant’s view of himself as a skilled worker matters only insofar as the State concurs with him.  Local certifications of skill presented by the migrant are accepted only if these local certifying bodies are, in turn, recognized or accredited by the State.  Others recognize skill and thus assign to it corresponding value in one’s application for entry when only its designated third-party certifies the skill.

The problematic which began as a question of a presence or absence or amount of skill is now a question of whose valuation of it sticks.  There may be other forces at work.  Looking more closely at how Australia, Canada and the UK attract foreign workers may provide some clues.

While innovative terms such as distinguished/exceptional/fresh talent or high-value migrants unsuccessfully distract us from the central consideration being that of skill (even without direct use of the word), recently-implemented initiatives seem to introduce an additional (almost inevitable) variable to now act in confluence with the variable of Destination State-recognized skill.   This is the market variable or, more specifically, the demand-supply variable.

Let’s take the supply side first.  It has long been the practice that State-recognized migrant skills are fully consummated, as it were, only with the additional requirement of a sponsor.  Simply put, skills actualize into benefit only with an offer of employment even before entry into the destination country.  How sponsorship was secured was determined by various intermediaries between the skilled migrant and the employer.  Now the skilled migrant can go directly to the market and get himself counted as part of the supply of willing labor,  even without sponsorship.  While a number of key benefits of this middle-man-free transaction undoubtedly accrue to the skilled migrant, full control remains in the hands of the State.  Ultimately, this new, direct worker-to-employer system is not unlike the State-recognized skill system, further entrenching the employer’s market status quo that marks the migration industry.

Next on the demand side, what we are seeing are further enhancements that make employers less constrained by State policies that protect local labor from what would otherwise be a deluge of foreign workers in an unregulated migration industry.    Employers typically must prove that foreign workers they wish to hire will fill jobs for which they can’t find locals to do.   Now area-specific or industry-specific forces, possibly driven by demographic or business competition variables, enable two demand fine-tunings:  1) justify area-based pilot projects with less-stringent migrant-hiring rules  and 2) rationalize an advanced listing of jobs with a lack of hirable local workers.    These enhancements improve the demand side, ensuring that special conditions in each specific demand area are addressed thus maintaining the equitable use of State-controlled supply of State-recognized skills of migrant workers.

Let’s get back to the problematic of the “unskilled” worker and see how it now looks, thus far.  After questioning the existence or amount of skill we challenged its valuation as its final legitimization rests with the State, not with the migrant.   After hurdling skill validation by the sovereign, the unskilled migrant then competes in a market where supply units are defined and controlled by the employer and demand units are fine-tuned to industry- or area-specific exigencies.

This migration-nuanced problematic of the “unskilled” translates to at least two real, practical concerns for the unskilled wishing to find work overseas:

First, the “unskilled” migrant worker in a source country will have to go through another round of certification and testing to secure a quantification, validation, recognition and legitimization of his skill by the destination sovereign.

Second, the “unskilled” migrant worker who can’t find employment locally and who thus desires to try his luck abroad faces tougher, more intense competition from a now better, directly-recruited, better-consolidated pool of willing and qualified workers from which employers may pick.  Migration complexifies competition among the “unskilled.”

The unskilled then, even after moving heaven and earth just to gather enough money for plane fare and other documentary requirements of travelling overseas, are faced with two more seemingly insurmountable roadblocks: they have to prove their skills and they have to get hired even before they leave.

It is not difficult then to understand why a segment (undoubtedly a larger percentage) of the unskilled takes a different route to a destination country.  Since the certification and sponsorship requirements pit the unskilled worker against global talent/competitors, the most realistic option for him, and probably the only advantage within his reach, is to gain entry into a destination country by whatever means and, once there, thus positioning himself better for jobs because he is able to respond quicker to more temporary, more seasonal, more informal jobs.  By complying less he survives more.  Indeed, the unskilled overstayer becomes more by confirming that he is less.  

There seems to be then a sea of unskilled workers inhabiting regions beyond the scope of the recruiting policies ostensibly designed to recruit them.  Whether this mis-targeting is done by design or by policy oversight is a question beyond the scope of this paper.  But empirical evidence from my interviews with Filipino overstayers in Japan (to be discussed in more detail in later portions of this paper) lends credence to this possibility, pointing to an alternative definition of the unskilled, which I tentatively name “truly unskilled,” as those who:

First, are, in fact, skilled in trades (before their departure from the source country and after their entry into the destination country) but are, for various reasons, unable or unwilling to go through certification or sponsorship requirements;

Second, were unskilled (before their departure) but are now currently skilled, having learned everything on-the-job on the strength of, first, initial recommendations from their social networks to get themselves hired and then subsequently, second, by virtue of opportunities given to them by their Japanese employers on the strength of goodwill earned through hard work, 24x7 availability on short notice, unbeatable docility and discipline,  and most importantly, unquestioning subservience and non-objection to low pay.

That being without skills is a step before becoming skilled rather than a final condition or outcome or consequence from which there is no redemption can be seen by the Japanese practice of mijukuren rodo, or skilled labor-to-be (Yamanaka 1993: 75), where large companies manage new recruits with the strategic objective of training them, of inculcating the specific skills for which the value of their employment will be fully realized (Inagami & Whittaker 2005: 25-26).   However, the “truly unskilled” subsist in a domain that is several times removed from the practice of mijikuren rodo.  Smaller companies cannot afford the administrative overhead (extra manpower) costs that mijikuren rodo produces, often resorting to on-demand or seasonal hiring practices that are the turbines of unskilled labor demand.  While mijikuren rodo recognizes potential to learn, the trainee must demonstrate proof or guarantees of this potential such as formal education, technical training completed and solid recommendations – precisely what the “truly unskilled” do not have.

In summary, our understanding of the term “unskilled” worker must necessarily encompass the following components:

a. A range of classifications of skill;
b. Perceived negative impact on destination society (safety/security/way of life-
  standard of living);
c. Skill is measured against standard of destination society;
d. Value is subjected to supply-demand forces both defined and thus controlled
  by employers and the State; and,
e. Inevitable fall-out of mis-targeted workers going into easier entry routes

“Unskilled” refers as much to the persons on which a range of skills reside as it does to the perceptions (judgments or fears) of those who utilize them.  “Unskilled” constitutes the actions taken by the State to preserve and protect the first rights of its locals to a specific group of jobs.  “Unskilled” encompasses the impending gap between increasingly specific controls of a persistent and ever-expanding resource.

I thus propose a core definition of the term “unskilled” worker:

The unskilled are those located, at any given point in time, on a group of jobs specifically reserved by the State for a particular sector of workers.

Note that in my formulation unskilled jobs are “reserved” and are thus ready for the taking by the willing while high-skilled jobs are “offered” only to the qualified.  Imputed into the reserved-offered distinction is the supply-demand dynamic in that the reserved jobs have a bigger group of takers and thus needs State regulation while the offered jobs have few takers and are thus largely left to private interests to manage.  The number of takers is predicted by a combination of factors the major ones of which are skill required (and thus education or training level), prestige and work-time (whether part- or full-time).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Basic Plan on Immigration Control (1st Edition), 1994

Guys, am just sharing here below some salient features of the 1st edition of the Basic Plan on Immigration Control of 1994.  For some reason, this translation of the 1st edition is not available in the Bureau of Immigration website ( which lists only the 2nd to the 5th editions.  I got my printed copy of this 1st edition from a high-ranking official of the immigration bureau.

The items below are quoted verbatim with their corresponding page number references.  Some notes of mine begin with the symbol "(e)" and are highlighted in red.  I am happy to share the actual pages of the book itself with anyone who needs them.  Please email me at for further inquiries/clarifications.

Immigration Bureau, Japan, Basic Plan on Immigration Control (1st Edition), Ministry of Justice (Translated by Japan Immigration Association), 1994




    - the entry into, residence in, and departure from Japan of foreign nationals are controlled on the basis of the status of residence system.
    status or position of person + authorized activities =status of residence system.

    - to achieve the "equitable control over the entry into and departure from Japan." which is the purpose of the Imigration Act.


    - with the rise of Japan's international position has led to an increase in the number of people entering Japan for various reasons.

    - there are increasing demands for employment of foreign nationals from various industries.

    > (e) while this may be an admission of the need for foreign workers by Japan it doesn't necessarily mean that MOJ admits to a labor shortage.

    - increase of foreigners disguised to be tourists to be admitted into Japan and be illegally employed.


    - this increased entry of foreign nationals: effect on Japan:
    >influencing national economy and life of the Japanese
    >how Japan deals with its foreign population influences its own international relations because of Japan's greater role in the world.


    (e) INTERESTING. the way discussion on the status of residence is organized shows that the primary objective of the classification was the control of employment, or labor protectionism.  It divides the 27 statuses into the following categories:

    A.  Status of Residence with which Employment is Authorized
    1. Investor/Business Manager
    2. Legal/Accounting Services
    3. Medical Services
    4. Researcher
    5. Instructor
    6. Engineer
    7. Specialists in Humanities/International Services
    8. Intracompany Transferee
    9. Entertainer
    - this category is missing from the printed document
    10. Skilled Labor
    - Mostly Chinese nationals to be working as Cooks.

    2. Status of Residence Prohibiting Employment [(e) that is, a permit is needed in order to legally do work subject to the restrictions in hours).
    11. Temporary Visitor
    12. College Student
    13. Pre-College Student
    - mentions that many enter in this category with the hidden intention to work.
    14. Trainee
    15. Dependent

    3. Status of Residence on the Basis of Civil Status and Position
    16. Permanent Resident
    - refers to the Koreans and Taiwanese
    - refers to those other than the above who are awarded permanent residence due to tenure or merit
    17. Spouse or Child of a Japanese National
    18. Spouse or Child of a Permanent Resident
    19.  Long-Term Resident
    - refers to the Nikkei.  Spouses and children with Japanese descent.

    4. Indo-Chinese and Other Refugees
    > Indo-Chinese Refugees for Long-Term Residence
    >Boat People


    - reasons for denial:
    >false statements made by foreign nationals about their purpose of enty (by pretending to be a temporary visitor with a hidden intention to work illegally in Japan) - 83% of total denied
    >non possession of a valid passport (because passports or visas held were discovered to be counterfieted or forged).

    a. General View
    - reasons for deportation:
    >illegal extention of stay (INTERESTING:  first time I heared of this.  Early name of OVERSTAYER).
    >illegal entry
    >unauthorized activities (meaning legal migrants but discovered to be working when they are not authorized to be working).- among total deported of 32,647, 29,884 or 82.4% were illegally working.

    - 54 employers arrested in 1990; 306 in 1991.

    b. Illegal Work/Employment
    - from 58 countries (39 in 1989)
    - In order of number:
    >Bangladesh, 5,925
    >South Korea, 5,534
    >Malaysia, 4,465
    >Philippines, 4,402
    >Pakistan, 3,886
    >Thailand: 1,450 (see table 10 attached)

    - types of jobs:
    see table 12:
    > construction workers
    >Factory Worker
    >Host, Hostess
    >Other Worker
    >Other Service
    >Transport worker

    3. Reasons for Illegal Work/Employment

    Four reasons are given:  (but is unclear what the source of these stated reasons are).

    a. Difference in Economic Conditions
    -cited comparative per capita GNP figures
    -cited comparative nominal wages

    b. Employment Situation in Foreign Countries
    - cited comparative unemployment figures
    - cited laborers returning from Middle east after oil crisis of 1973

    c. Domestic Employment Situation
    -cited ratio of seekers to job offers - showing employees market - being 1:2 in june 1988 and 1.14 in dec 1988, 1.27 in 1989, 1.33 in 1989 and 1.41 in june 1991.
    - cited labor shortage as being caused by:
    >restructuring of operations of businesses after two oil shocks, especially among small and medium sized businesses.
    >change in way of thinking of employers - desire to hire foreign workers.

    d. Intermediation from Brokers or Agents
    - acknowledged a "foothold" of foreign workers... that they cannot enter without any connection or link in the country whether this be relatives [network theory], or an agent or broker who helped them with the arrangements.
    - acknowledge that it is also the illegal workers themselves who refer relatives or other friends to the companies they are already working for, and then brokers step in to facilitate the travel of these recommended relatives [(e) through the available means: tourist then overstay].

    4. Overstay
    -8 out of 10 overstayers previously held the temporary visitor visa.


    1. General View
    -recent increase in international mobility
    -greater role that Japan must play given her behavior is always followed by the international community.
    -ROLE OF IMMIGRATION SERVICES:  to contribute to facilitating international cooperation and international exchange AT THE SAME TIME securing the system for peroperly admitting foreign nationals for the sound development of Japanese society.
    -GOAL OF IMMIGRATION SERVICES: to eliminate or prevent the entry of criminals - SUCH AS NARCOTIC DRUG DEALERS AND ILLEGAL WORKERS, so as to maintain order in the society.
    - FOUR TASKS that will achieve this:
    a. Rationalize and expedite immigration and residence examination.
    b. Have precise data about residence of foreign nationals
    c. Study means of further improving effectiveness of training, including establishment of new system.
    d. Dealing with illegal workers who hinder the sound development of Japanese society, to prevent settlement with appication of strict guidance and procedures with due respect to human rights.

    2. Encouragement of Smooth Personnel Exchange

    3. Policy on the Issue of Foreign Workers
    - Skilled workers, AS LONG AS THEY CANNOT BE SUBSTITUTED BY JAPANESE, wouldn't likely cause adverse effect on the domestic labor market and other social problems, but is expected to promote and develop Japanese economy.  Will admit as many skilled foreigners as possible

    - "But will further carry out careful studies from various points of view in regard to unskilled  workers who are to be engaged in so-called unskilled labor."

    -"The Immigration Control Act was revised in 1989 by Law No. 79 in accordance with such policy (stated above) to reorganize and expand the status of residence so as to accept more foreign nationals having expert technology, skills or knowledge and wishing to work in Japan."

    -"acceptance of foreign workers who enter and reside in Japan to be engaged in unskilled work (hereinafter, referred to as "Unskilled Worker", is likely to greatley influence the Japanese society and economy bearing in mind similar situation epxerience in other countries, it is necessary to continue to carry out careful studies.

    3.1 Entry of Foreign Nationals for the Purpose of Employment under the Present Categories of Status of Residence

    3.2 Question of Foreign "Unskilled" Workers

    3.2.1 Aspects of the Problem Viewpoints on which Opinions in Favor of Acceptance are Based

    >1.  Viewpoint of countering labor shortage
    >2. Viewpoint of International Contribution and Cooperation
    >3. Viewpoint of so-called "Domestic" Internationalization  Issues Pointed out as Negative Aspects
    >1. Risk of identifying such kinds of jobs in which Japanese are reluctant to be employed and consequent division of labor market.
    >2. Risk of unemployment problem of foreign workers at the time of economic recession, and probable deterioration of the entire employment situation of Japan.
    >3. Risk of preventing the improvement of working conditions including wage level of Japanese workers.
    >4. Adverse effect on modernization and rationalization of Japanese industries, as well as improvement of the industrial structure.
    >5. Expansion of domestic production, which contradicts efforts being made to reduce surplus, so as to correct the imbalance of trade between Japan and foreign countries and consequent increase of exports.
    >6. Improbability of expecting contribution to economic development of their home countries with remittance by foreign workers, which, instead, is apt to result in non-productive consumption.
    >7. Burden of social costs incurred in widely ranging fields such as education, housing, health, and sanitation as a result of long-stay and settlement of foreign workers.
    >8. Social friction in communities because of difference in languages, ways of living and customs, etc.
    >9. Possible increase of misbehavior and crimes of foreign nationals.

    further point stressed:  "In addition to the above-mentioned aspects, the following question is also raised.  Once Japan decides to admit so-called unskilled workers, there would be a big inflow of foreign workers into Jaan, which may lead to change of policy exactly because of obvious and serious problems caused in conjuction with their lodgement and settlement.  Then, it would not be easy to invalidate their residence and the residence of their families who have already been settled in Japanese society and to ask them to leave Japan for their home countries..  It is therefore pointed out that  the question whether or not to accept unskilled foreign workers needs careful consideration with the perspective bearing in mind where the national consensus especially lies.

    p.34 Problems with regard to Immigration Control (if unskilled workers are accepted).

    Decision making process to accept "Unskilled workers":
    economic reasons + employment situation of individual industries + modality of acceptance

    >1. Problems of Immigration control.
    - if unskilled are accepted, status of residence system has to be reorganized to now create categories for the unskilled "taking into account circumstance of the industries and national life of Japan"
    - if a quota system for each industry needing unskilled workers is put in place (or skill-based quota system), it is not easy to judge precisely the desirable number of foreign individuals for every branch of domestic industry to be admitted and set limits to the number of such workers.

    (e) the issue seems to be, first, a lack of best practices and experience in models of acceptance or if they had models, they were only based on what they perceived to be failed models of germany.  second, because a top-down approach seems to be the assumption, the problem is a heavy one.  but if a bottom-up approach is taken, the problem would be more equitably shared, adn the solution more widely owned.

    >2. problems of residence control and departure from Japan.
    - depdnding on the balance of supply and demand, "unskilled workers" would be subject to regulation after their acceptance if there is a recession, as is seen in the experience of European countries (Germany, France, and who else?). During economic recession, it is highly probable that the home countries of "unskilled" foreign workers are also liable to similar situation (meaning if Japan will be in an economic recession, then so will the economies of hte home countries of the unskilled workers in Japan.) Therefore if Japan will send the unemployed unskilled workers back to their home countries, "will constitute an export of unemployment, causing deterioration of not only the employment condition of their countries, but also the relations between accepting countries and home countries."

    If this is so then Japan cannot send them back, and it is inevitable that most of them will remain unemployed in Japan, and thus will "constitute one of thei factors of their long stay and settlement."

    "Rotation system" - system where duration, number, job area, etc are controlled in detail
    -text states that employers tend to take negative attitude toward sending home workers who are already accustomed to the job requirements and environment and language and replacing them with new ones.  even the workers will be unwilling to return home.

    - such situation would result in the prolonged stay in Japan.  at which point humanitarian conditions would now have to be considered - such as accepting their families.  they would then become a permanent part of the community despite the original intention being that they remain a temporary labor force.

    - thus rotation system will not be considered.

    3.2.2 Future policy with regard to Foreign "Unskilled" workers
    POLICY STATEMENT:  the admittance of "unskilled" foreign workers is not a mere introduction of labor force into Japan but acceptance of human beings having their own cultures and ways of living, and there are many problems resulting therefrom that cannot be judged by economic principles.  It is also closely related to various Japanese administrative fields such as industry, labor, international cooperation, education, welfare, health, sanitation and public security, etc.  and the degree of indluence it would have on the national life in general is considered to be great."

    -"admittance of "unskilled" foreign workers would require safeguarding their economic and social rights and their families, and necessary measures must be taken for that purpose, which would require large scale rearrangement (so is this lazyness?) and review of the official systems, high social costs, a substantial long period of time and a arge amount of effort.  The social costs incurred for the admittance of "unskilled" foreign workers have to be borne by all the people of Japan."

    - "For all these reasons, the study to decide whether or not to admit "unskilled" foreign workers need to take into account magnitude of the problem.  This is an issue of the whole nation and is not limited to one company or one industry. This is also an issue of a future society

    (e) -why is the retraining option like what they did to their own workers in the boom years of wwII never considered?  or if it is considered, why is it never attempted?

    4. Ways of Acceptance of Foreign Nationals who intend to earn and Aquire Technical Skills in Japan (this section skipped by me.)

    5. To cope with the Issue of Illegal Foreign Workers


    >"the fact that many foreign nationals are illegally employed as "unskilled" workers results likely in preventing the improvement of working conditions of domestic workers"

    >"results in the division of the labor market due to the consolidation of low wage labor .. STOP. SEE BELOW.


    - delaying modernization and rationalization of industries.
    - disturbing the improvement of employment structure
    - threatening the aged, who suffer from less employment opportunities, by taking away the opportunities that would otherwise be given to them (well NATURALLY!: an employer will choose the younger, foreign worker to the older local worker. so what's the problem here?).
    - causing other problems influencing the national economy.

    - amnesty is a measure to legalize the stay and empoyment of those illegal foreign workers conforming to certain standards if they apply within a period of time.
    - amnesty will not necessarily lead to reduction of illegal foreign workers because:
    >1. There is a tremendous amount of surplus labor force in neighboring countries.  And thus amnesty only serves as a motivation for more illegal foreign workers to enter, knowing that an amnesty program is available.
    >2. when an unskilled worker is legalized, the employer will be faced with higher costs in maintaining that now-legal unskilled worker: income taxes, social welfare, etc.  and thus it is doubtful that the employer will want to continue employing that legalized worker.

    - thus it cannot be expected that the demand for employing illegal foreign workers will disappear.