Saturday, February 14, 2015

Some Implications of a Morphogenetic Migrant "Illegality"

One significant implication of a morphogenetic migrant "illegality" is its meaning to the recent opening up of Japan to more caregivers and tourists.

Concluded in 2009 and starting just four years ago (in 2011) the Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement has paved the way for the entry of Filipino caregivers to Japan.  In 2013 Japan waived the visa requirements for tourists from Thailand and Malaysia coming to Japan on short-term visits; and offered multiple-entry visas for Filipinos and Vietnamese tourists.

This “opening up” is not the first of its kind.  Parallels can be seen in the “newcomer” phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s when Japan witnessed a rapid growth in both flows and stocks of foreigners (among others, Filipinos, Thais, Malaysian) other than its “oldcomer” Korean and Taiwanese populations.  That the recent opening up is due to direct government and bilateral action also has parallels in the aggressive recruitment of international students in the early 2000s and the recruitment of technical trainees in the 1990s.

Moreover, one difference between the above-cited instances of “opening up” is related to the “kind” of foreigners they are bringing in.  I enclose in quotes the word kind to represent its pregnant meaning.   Kawamori (2015) attempts to dissect this difference by suggesting that the newcomer influx of the 1980s and 1990s, bannered mostly entertainers and workers (recruited as skilled, technical trainees but arguably utilized in unskilled work), differs in visibility from the current crop of new entrants, mostly nurses:  the former group being less visible since their services catered to a limited section of the population (specifically bar goers or, generally, only customers of the entertainment industry and the latter group) and the latter group being more visible since caregiver work is more person-to-person service and caters to a much larger target client base (given Japan’s rapidly aging population).

I offer to further Kawamori’s reflections by suggesting that what he crystallized as visibility might also be possible to theorize in two other ways.  The first way is to think how visibility may be a proxy for prestige/acceptability of the work type.  True, entertainers and blue-collar workers may have had direct contact with a smaller segment of the Japanese population and may thus be considered less visible.  Bringing in the distinction made by a Critical Realist ontology – that of the empirical (experienced), the actual (known as true but not experienced directly) and the real (empirical and actual plus the emergent realities from their interaction), I venture that Kawamori’s reflection on visibility inhabits the empirical domain and that prestige/acceptability inhabits the actual domain.
Indeed only the direct customers of entertainers and the direct co-workers or employers of foreign workers may experience their services.  However, these two work types are highly publicized by the media both for their merits and demerits (with longer recall probably being on the latter).

Thus while the wider population may not have experienced the realities of entertainers/workers on the empirical domain, I venture to say that entertainers and workers are nevertheless within the purview of this same wider population but in the actual domain.  Irate wives or significant others of men who patronize entertainer services, families of men who become spouses of entertainers, local workers who may feel the pressure of downward wages attributed to cheap foreign labor – all of these segments of the Japanese population to which entertainers/workers are not empirically visible, in fact have visibility in the actual domain.

On the other end of the spectrum, that Kawamori attributed high visibility to the caregiver work given its direct relevance to the wider aged population may also be reinterpreted to be doubly high in visibility given that it also has a comparatively higher prestige/acceptability than entertainer/worker jobs.
Now since visibility exists in the actual domain, the cultural or ideational conditioning of the population on the work type of entertainer/worker is not benign.  The wider population then has some formulation of the acceptability of these work types directly resulting from their assignment of value or prestige in them.  As I argued in this paper  - citing most notably Yu-Jose (2007), Suzuki (2011), Sellek (2001) among others – the prestige assigned to entertainers is low.

Thus Kawamori’s reflections may be reinterpreted to mean that because of this low prestige attributed to entertainer work, they may be said to be less visible in terms of/when juxtaposed against the more significant, more meaningful, higher prestige (and at this time, highly needed) caregiver work.  Visibility and prestige then, in this formulation, are inseparable.

The second way to think about Kawamori’s crystallization of visibility is to reflect if this study’s findings on a transacted, accretive and functional “illegality” may have any value in proactively managing this impending new influx of foreigners – now theorized as imbued with high visibility/prestige/acceptability.

In this regard, one more point of reflection Kawamori brought up is whether this higher visibility of nurses (now re-theorized as due to higher prestige/acceptability) may foster a new era of multiculturalism.

This catchword/phrase for multi-ethnic diversity in Japan also has several notable ideational transformations through the past three decades.  The way Chung (2010: 155) discusses the Japan government’s internationalization campaign of the 1980s (participation in international institutions, local adoption of technological innovations, etc). one may get the impression that what is meant by internationalization is a Japan bringing in external elements into Japanese society.  Morris-Suzuki (2010: 194), on the other hand, in citing Hatsusei Ryuhei of Kobe University who she identifies as the originator of the term “uchinaru kokusaika” (translated as “internationalization within”), explains that what Ryuhei had wanted to capture through that term was a gradual process of evening-out, so to speak, brought about by the rapid modernization/globalization, as it was experienced in that era, where Japan’s culture incorporates values/practices accepted in a global scale.

Chung and Morriz-Suzuki were looking at opposite though in a sense complementary aspects to what I, for now, generically term as diversity.  Chung’s interpretation of internationalization can be said to be akin to a process of addition (bringing in of global elements into Japanese society).  Morris-Suzuki’s interpretation of Ryuhei’s formulation of uchinaru kokusaika was more of a process of achieving equilibrium (Japan incorporating same values as the global stage).  Chung’s interpretation was Japan-centric.  Morris-Suzuki’s view of Ryuhei’s formulation was global-centric.  Both views of internationalization were integrative.

In contrast to this integrative view was the non-integrative/tolerance view.  Yamamoto (2012), for example, interpreted the 2012 changes on immigration policy (concerning highly-skilled workers) as reflecting a “greater acceptance of difference.”  I interpret this to mean that yes the Japan-centric or global-centric processes may still be at work, but in the end, there will always be differences and these differences now have “greater acceptance” as reflected in the 2012 immigration policy revisions.   The process of acceptance can be highlighted as different from the process of toleration of differences which Morris-Suzuki (2010: 197-198) interpreted to be the prevailing flavor of the 1980s/1990s.

Finally, Morris-Suzuki’s (2010) now recognizing the unstoppable globalization forces (information, ethnic diversity influences, etc) sees just the a continuously transforming and emerging aggregation of diverse identity elements within each individual forming what she calls a “multiculturalism from within.”

Now going back to Kawamori’s use of the term multiculturalism to describe the impending increase in diversity given the expected latest, new influx of foreigners, the study’s implications may be as follows:

1.  In the event that from this new influx of high-prestige, high-visibility foreigners, there may arise a new batch of overstayers, the level of punitiveness that will meet this new batch of violators will not be any less than what faced their predecessors.  This is because, I believe, this new program was designed to meet valid needs of the aging population and the sanctioned population being brought in was carefully targeted on the assumption that there is a lesser risk of overstaying.  The weakening or dilution of the source of the ideational/cultural conditioning that feeds punitiveness to migrant “illegality,” in other words, was not the impetus to this new influx.  On the contrary, if in fact overstayers will come out from the high-prestige/highly-acceptable nurses, they will be under a double lense/double expectation of performance similar to how the oldcomer population are expected to be fully compliant to the Japanese way of life and be still responsible “outsiders.”

If on the contrary, the accretive “illegality” were to witness a new and pervasive layer that may be more condoning of overstayers coupled with the desire to integrate them (this layer is not, in my opinion, currently existing), then yes overstayers from errant nurses may be treated a tad differently (for the better).

2.  Knowing that the accretive “illegality” layer is fully intact, one implication of this study is that it calls out then to the Japan government to institute more proactive measures that will at least make potential overstayer-nurses think twice before they uncritically choose a transacted and functional “illegality” over the dangers of the accretive “illegality” which is alive and well.   Competitive salary levels, a more responsive support infrastructure, effective language support are among the changes in the JPEPA program for nurses that may provide a counterweight to the temptation to become Bilog.

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