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March 1995, Volume 2, Number 3

Earthquake forces Japan to deal with Illegals

The January 17, 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed 5,300 people and left 300,000 homeless also prompted more than 350 illegal aliens to seek exit visas to leave Japan at their own expense. There are an estimated 293,000 illegal aliens in Japan, and the government is simply repatriating, rather than detaining or fining, those who lost their homes and jobs in the earthquake. Illegal aliens are not entitled to housing or most other assistance that is being made available to quake victims.

As Japan struggles to build replacement housing for those left homeless, the government came under pressure to permit foreign carpenters to enter to build the 2x4 wooden homes common in the western US, but rare in Japan. These homes withstood the quake far better than traditional Japanese homes, but Japan is reluctant to permit US builders to bring to Japan the carpenters skilled in 2x4 construction. Japan classifies carpenters as simple labor, and one official asserted that, "Even in an emergency, we don't desire letting in simple[foreign] laborers."

Some 2,365 illegal foreigners were deported from Japan following a major crackdown in September, 1994. More than 90 percent of those caught were working illegally, usually in small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly at construction sites and in metal goods manufacturing. About one-fourth (509) were Koreans, followed by 363 Thais and 292 Chinese. In 1993 Japan repatriated 177,904 illegal immigrants, up from 169,443 in the previous year.

The Kochi Prefectural Government announced that it would begin to accept applications from and hire foreigners for certain city jobs, despite a 1953 law that requires all public servants to be Japanese citizens. About 1.3 million foreigners were registered as residing in Japan in January 1994.

The Japanese deep-sea fishing labor management council has approved the use of more foreign workers on fishing vessels because of a shortage of Japanese workers. The council will raise the current ceiling of 25 percent foreign fisherman to 40 percent of the crew. About 3,400 foreign fisherman worked on the 1,700 Japanese deep-sea fishing boats in 1994. About 70 percent of the foreign fisherman were Indonesians, followed by Filipinos and Peruvians. Wages for foreign fisherman are about one-tenth of the wages of Japanese fishermen.


Teresa Watanabe, "Hammering Home A Point; U.S. Carpenters, Houses Could Aid Quake Recovery," Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1995, D1; The Daily Yomiuri, February 6, 1995; "More foreigners likely on Japan's deep-sea fishing boats," Japan Economic Newswire, January 20, 1995. Mainichi Daily News, December 30, 1994, January 3, 1995.