In a policy speech on Jan 14 of 2014, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated, "We have set an objective, by the year 2020, to expand the number of foreign students to 300,000 -- which is more than double the current figure."
The government's strategy of boosting the number of foreign students is aimed at achieving long-term economic growth through the training of foreigners who, hopefully, will return to their home countries and lay the groundwork for strategic alliances with Japan.
But Yasuhiro Idei, writing in Shukan Shincho (Jan 1-8), sees them instead as "immigrants-in-waiting," and raises questions whether they will really have such a favorable impact on Japan's economic future.
During 2013, Uniqlo shops in the Tokai region were reportedly the target of a group of shoplifters from Vietnam who struck at least 100 times. Some of the gang members were finally arrested in September of this year. It had been reported earlier in 2014 that flight attendants on Vietnam's national carrier had been discovered carrying back big bundles of Uniqlo merchandise for resale in Vietnam, where such garments, which are considered rarities, are popular.
In December, it was discovered that a Vietnamese trainee at a facility in Gifu Prefecture had killed and eaten goats that were being kept at the facility for grass removal.
During the first half of 2014, the number of crimes reported by foreigners who were in Japan for purposes of study or learning a trade increased by more than 10%. The more than 5,000 cases on which prosecutors decided bring to trial marked the first net increase in the past nine years.
Of the above, 691 offenders were Vietnamese nationals, a year-on-year increase of more than 20%. More than 20% of all foreign offenders charged with theft were Vietnamese, who also accounted for roughly half the number of shoplifting cases.
Why, asks Idei, are so many people who come to Japan to study, involved in cases of theft?
In November, a 20-year-old female student from Vietnam named Nguoc (phonetic), tearfully confessed to police in broken Japanese, blubbering, "I was down to my last 2,000 yen..."
She shared a room on the second floor of a weather-beaten dormitory for foreign students, in an unnamed town located near the boundary between Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.
To pay for the cost of her travel to Japan, Nguoc's father had put up the family's rice field as collateral, raising about 1.4 million yen. That money was soon consumed by a broker's fee, tuition, rent and various expenses, but the broker had assured her she could "easily earn 200,000 yen a month doing part-time work."
Actually she was only about to make around 7,000 yen on a good day doing factory work introduced by the school, and the job often left her too fatigued to attend Japanese-language classes. Faced with this situation and unable to return home without driving her family into bankruptcy, she turned to crime.
Over the past several years, the numbers of students from Vietnam coming to Japan have been soaring. From 9,000 in 2012, the figure rose to 15,000 in 2013 and then nearly doubled again, to 28,000, in 2014. Pushing the growth is the government's stated target of 300,000 foreign students by the year 2020.
But when working for at an hourly wage of, say, 950 yen, students who work part-time (28 hours per week is the legal maximum set by the government) can only expect to earn about 100,000 yen, which is seldom enough to support their needs and service the debt their families go into to send them into Japan.
Some of them tie up with gangs bent on larceny. A 29-year-old graduate student named Tran (phonetic) tells the writer that the roots of those gangs extend back to Vietnamese who came to Japan in the 1970s following the communist takeover in the country's south.
The system of bringing students from abroad is given scant oversight.
"Compared with universities, Japanese-language schools are fairly easy to set up, and the regulations are loosely enforced," says Tadashi Bannai, a professor at Mindanao International University in the Philippines, who adds, "With the targeted figure of 300,000, I suppose more of them will be springing up. Some can obtain as much as 1 million yen a year in government subsidies per each student."
Idei warns that if Japan continues to treat foreign students as low-paid immigrants-in-waiting, before anyone realizes it public order may decline further. What's more, both countries' good intentions for closer and more beneficial relationship may turn out to be a pipe dream.
The quota of 300,000 foreign students, the writer concludes, will wind up as nothing more than a project for nurturing criminals.© Japan Today