Recruiters seek relaxed immigration law in RP-Japan trade deal

by Jeremaiah M. Opiniano

QUEZON CITY–RECRUITERS of Filipinos to Japan are tying that country’s immigration law to the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement currently under negotiation, believing that the former is the key for the country to benefit from Jpepa.

The Philippines will not benefit much from sending skilled workers to Japan on a major consideration, Philippine Association of Recruitment Agencies Deploying Artists (Parada) president Lorenzo Langomez told the OFW Journalism Consortium.

“If Japan’s immigration laws will be favorable to us [Filipinos],” then Jpepa could work, Langomez said.

One provision in Japan’s immigration law that Langomez said he and Parada are lobbying for is allowing Filipinos to petition family members especially if these Filipinos will be working in Japan for longer periods.

This, he said, would also relax provisions in the Jpepa that, for one, requires Filipino nurses to be trained in Japan for three years.

If the Jpepa pushes through, Langomez said Filipino nurses and caregivers there will be called “nursing aides” and will only be “promoted” unless they pass the licensure examination in Japan after the third year of their on-the-job training as required under the Jpepa.

In its briefing paper to the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council, the Philippine Coordinating Committee said Jpepa is just a free trade agreement between Japan and the Philippines but with additives.

Under the Jpepa, the Ledac paper dated August 2007 said, trade and movement of natural persons between the two countries would be “simplified and harmonized”.
“For Japan, Jpepa is the first bilateral EPA that includes a provision of opening its labor market to foreign nurses and caregivers,” said Hiroshi Yoneyama of the Japan External Trade Organization Manila, said in a statement early October.

Japanese academician Mamoru Tsuda of the Osaka University of Foreign Studies said the target 400 nurses and caregivers to be deployed through Jpepa will remain to be trainees.

“That (employment situation) will put your nurses in a vulnerable position,” Tsuda told a small Filipino audience during a lecture at Miriam College’s Women and Gender Institute (Wagi) held before the Philippine Senate began hearings on the agreement.

Come to my parlor…

LANGOMEZ thinks the Jpepa’s provision opening Japan’s labor market to Filipino health and other skilled workers is only a “come-on” for remittance-reliant Philippines to consider signing the treaty.

But they are glossing over a serious matter, he says. This, Langomez and Tsuda said is the requirement for Filipinos to learn Nihonggo.

Langomez the Filipino says while he may know a few Japanese phrases, thanks to his three decades in the industry of sending overseas performing artists to Japan, Filipinos will have a hard time knowing the 3,000 characters that make up the Nihongo language.

Tsuda, who is married to a Filipina university teacher, says even he has yet to master Nihongo.

In the workplace, the language barrier will be a major issue—especially so that Japanese nurses, once the Filipinos join them in the hospitals there, will also bear the brunt of making sure that Japanese and Filipino nurses communicate well.

“That is why even the Japanese Nurses Association has voiced out its protest to the Jpepa’s provision on nurses,” Langomez said.

According to the Ledac paper, however, the Philippine government can use official development assistance funding to jumpstart establishment and/or expansion of Japanese language training centers in the country and in Japan.

What Tsuda also finds worrisome in the Jpepa is the nurse trainees arrangement. For one, he says, the salaries for them will be lower than Japanese nurses.

For another, “Japanese nurses are mostly women, part-timers, get old, and do not stay on in the work because of the demands of such a job.”

“Japanese nurses already quit come their third year, and cannot endure the detailed work,” Tsuda said.

Also, by being nurse trainees, Tsuda said Filipino nurses will also not be allowed to join unions, and will even have their passports confiscated if they are suspected of having such inclinations.

Tsuda added that Japan’s employment sector relegates foreign workers into trainees because “mainstream Japanese companies still do not need cheap labor even in the near future.”

At the same time, Japan also has a long cultural history of being an exclusivist society which is reflected in its immigration policies.

It has even yet to grant a general amnesty to undocumented or illegal foreigners in Japan, Tsuda says.

…said the spider to the fly

IF the Jpepa were to be ratified by the Philippines (Japan’s parliament has ratified the treaty already), it will mark the first time Japan will open up its health sector to foreign workers given the decreasing number of Japanese nurses, and rising aging populations.

This is an “opportunity” for the Philippines, says the Jetro Manila office, drumming the benefits of Jpepa to both countries.

Yoneyama, Jetro Manila’s research director, says Japan’s health, labor and welfare ministry has declared the world’s second-largest economy will need 400,000 to 600,000 caregivers by the year 2014.

But Langomez wonders why is it that the provision in the Jpepa is only 400 nurses and caregivers, and the arrangement for such is only a “pilot project”.

If Jpepa pushes through, what Langomez wants to find out is “how big will be the job orders” which, he observes, seems not explicitly mentioned in the Jpepa.

Langomez, who owns the Manila-headquartered recruitment agency JERR Services and Trading Corporation, also thinks that when it comes to nurses, Filipinos will try to go to the “usual” destination countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

“I am not sure about Japan,” he says.

Data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration on deployed overseas workers by country and type of skill (from 1993 to 2006) show that the Philippines has yet to deploy a nurse to Japan.

Meanwhile, Langomez said that since Japan tightened its immigration policies governing the entry of Filipina entertainers two years ago, deployment of overseas performing artists or OPA plummeted.

POEA data show that from deploying 15,414 choreographers and dancers (including 14,749 females) in 2005, the figure dropped to 3,267 choreographers and dancers in 2006 (including 3,047 females).

At the same, since Japan has tightened the issuance of what is called entertainers’ visa to Filipinas, there has been a 90-percent drop in entertainers’ visa, Langomez claims.

He added this resulted to Filipinos entering Japan as tourists, and as married spouses to Japanese.

Thus, Langomez doubts that the current Jpepa provisions will include the entry of OPAs, which was provided in Japan’s economic partnership agreement with Thailand.

Eight weeks of Senate hearings on the Jpepa went without Jpepa being ratified, as its benefits to the Philippines still leaving senators dissatisfied.

According to the Ledac paper, without the Jpepa, the professional services opportunities in Japan will be opened to similar countries but not to the Philippines.

But until government officials can explain to senators how Filipino health workers would be accorded “national treatment” similar to Japanese workers, the agreement’s fate would remain a debatable agenda.