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April 2007, Volume 14, Number 2

Japan, Korea

Japan had two million foreign residents in 2005, up from 1.4 million in 1995. Two-thirds of the foreign residents are permanent residents, including Koreans who have been living in Japan for decades; there are 519,000 Chinese. The number of foreign workers was 180,000 in 2005, up from 155,000 in 2000 and 68,000 in 1990.

The sharpest increases have been in categories of foreigners who work but are not considered workers under labor law. The number of foreign trainees was 3,300 in 1990, 30,000 in 2000, and 87,300 in 2005. Most were Chinese, and many paid brokers $2,000 to $3,000 to get three-year jobs in small firms that pay $500 a month; trainees are also supposed to receive training. Some trainees leave the employers to whom they are assigned, citing long hours or abusive treatment, which subjects them to deportation.

JITCO, which administers the trainee program, says that it knows there are abuses, but says it lacks the authority to make unannounced inspections of Japanese firms with trainees. A 2005-06 study that relied on unannounced inspections found violations at 80 percent of the firms inspected.

The number of foreign students working part time rose from 11,000 in 1990 to 59,000 in 2000 and 100,000 in 2005.

The nikkeijin are descendents of Japanese migrants to Brazil and Peru. They began to receive three-year residence visas in 1990, and their number in Japan was 71,800 in 1990, 221,000 in 2000, and 240,000 in 2005. They do not have to work and can extend their three-year permits and change employers in Japan, and some of the jobs they abandon are filled by foreign trainees. Their children, born in Japan as well as abroad, are having difficulty integrating into Japanese society- many are neither employed nor in school.

The number of foreign overstayers was 106,500 in 1990, 232,000 in 2000, and 194,000 in 2005.

The first 15 Filipino nurses arrived in Japan to begin training to be health-care workers under a free-trade agreement between the countries. However, implementation of the broader free-trade agreement that is expected to increase migration has been delayed until Spring 2008.

The Japanese government continues to struggle to develop a migration policy. It seems clear that the foreign workers with the fewest rights, foreign trainees, often subsidize small firms that might be forced to close if low-wage workers were not available. The Neikejian, with more mobility, are able to find jobs shunned by local workers with the subcontractors of major firms.

Korea. Korea had 186,894 unauthorized migrant workers in December 2006, up from 106,118 in 1999- there are a total 910,149 foreigners living in Korea. The government hopes to reduce the number of unauthorized migrants to 40,000 by the end of 2007.

The Korean government and society are aware of problems with migrants: 81 percent of migrants reported they had not received wages on time or worked too many hours and 2,000 suffered workplace injuries in 2005, including 70 who died. The Korean Herald in February 2007 profiled cases of migrant abuse.

On December 21, 2006, Korea's Supreme Court ruled that the treatment of foreign workers should be the same as that of local workers. Under the industrial trainee program that began in 1993, trainees did not receive the minimum wage during their first year in Korea. The 2004 Employment Permit System, which is replacing the trainee system, considers foreign workers entitled to the minimum wage from the start of their three-years permitted employment in Korea.

The introduction of the Employment Permit System also led to more enforcement against illegal migrants, many of whom decided to stay in Korea rather than return to their countries of origin, pay fees, and re-enter Korea as legal guest workers. As a result, there continue to be reports of migrant mis-treatment. Migrant complaints center on poor treatment by Korean employers; language training for migrants includes Korean sentences such as "why are you beating me?"

Korea has 23 detention facilities to hold unauthorized migrants until removal. A fire in the Yeosu Foreigners' Detention Center killed 10 migrants on February 11, 2007.

Beginning March 4, 2007, Korea allowed ethnic Koreans 25 years and older living in China and the ex-USSR to receive what the government termed "H-2 visas" that allow them to live and work in Korea for up to three years. The government expects an additional 135,000 ethnic Koreans to enter and work under the liberalization; about 140,000 ethnic Koreans were in Korea in 2006. Ethnic Koreans will have to pass a Korean-language test and win an H-2 visa in a lottery.

Korea is an ethnically homogeneous country, but more Korean men are marrying foreign women- 14 percent of marriages in Korea in 2005 involved at least one foreign spouse. There are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 international marriage brokers in Korea, and they advertise especially in rural Korea, offering marriage tours to China and Vietnam and other poorer countries for $10,000.

Koreans traveling abroad are sometimes tested to ensure that they are Koreans; Chinese have been caught smuggling goods on forged Korean passports. The tests include questions about pop culture, Korean geography and history.

North Koreans work in South Korea, Russia, the Czech Republic, Mongolia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Angola. They are sent abroad by their Korean employers, which retain most of their foreign earnings.

Kwan Weng Kin, "Just how receptive are the Japanese to foreigners," Straits Times, March 4, 2007. Norimitsu Onishi, "Korean Men Use Brokers to Find Brides in Vietnam," New York Times, February 22, 2007. Shin Hae-in, "Maltreatment of illegals shocks Korean society," Korea Herald, February 14, 2007. Bae Ji-snook, "EU Tightens Screen on Korean Travelers," Korea Times, February 9, 2007.