Japan’s been getting hit recently with a bunch of scandals when it comes to its justice system, particularly in its handling of foreigners. Most of the news is focused on Ghosn’s grand escape and possible seven to eight hours of questioning, and I mean that’s fair, it’s a rather sensational story. However, there is another news story sliding a little under the radar of the international community, and it’s horrifying for all foreigners who work in Japan.
A Filipino worker in Yokohama had her passport, college transcript, and college diploma “allegedly” stolen from her. After they gave her a job as an interpreter, Advanceconsul Immigration Lawyer Office supposedly only paid here 100,000 yen (~$960) a month. Let me assure you, that wage is criminally low for a full time position. Even at my worst eikaiwa job I got 250,000 yen.
According to the reports, *AdvanceConsul Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists’ Office in Yokohama wanted these documents to “keep her from running away” from her job.
I call that statement absolute bullshit.
If you’re an employer in the year of our Lord 2020 and you think it’s somehow acceptable to hold a passport hostage in order to make someone work for you? That’s fucking barbaric and disgusting. Also, if you’re using the same tactics as sex traffickers and drug smugglers that force people from country to country to be sold like cattle, you might want to rethink your Human Resources angle in your arguments.
It really bothers me how everyone wants to kind of gloss over this event like it’s not a big deal, but no, it’s honestly horrifying. Thanks to this scandal, Japan Today reported something I honestly wasn’t aware of:
It is illegal in Japan for companies to confiscate the passports of technical trainees under a special intern program, but there is no law forbidding firms from taking the passports of foreign laborers in Japan under other visa schemes.
There is a government guideline advising against the confiscation of passports but it is not legally binding.
What fuckery is this?!
I like to think I’m pretty aware of immigration laws. I honestly cannot count by this point how many times I’ve been through an immigration office in Japan, and yet this tidbit never came up?! What the hell?
The irony that a law office is creating a situation in which a new law might get drafted isn’t lost on me. The very people who should know better are mistreating their employee in such a horrendous way. Luckily the Filipino employee’s lawyer, Shoichi Ibusuki, is willing to take on this case and demand a new law to protect future foreign workers from this kind of hostage situation happening again:
“Unfortunately, it’s common practice for companies to take the passports of the foreign workers they employ,
“But to take someone’s passport and then force them to work is forced labour, and should not be allowed under Japanese law…I believe this guideline should become law, and also include a penalty clause. We’re hoping that we can use this lawsuit as an opportunity to convince the government to create a law that would ban the confiscation of passports.”
People are arguing back and forth in various parts of comment sections about the “pros and cons” of employers holding a passport, and here’s my hot take: THERE ARE NO PROS ONLY CONS!
Who supports this shit? Racists, duh
The arguments for it are usually shallow (and often full of racism). For example, the idea that “these foreigners from the Philippines, China, and Korea are all doing illegal things.” No, they’re fucking not. The Filipino woman in question was brought over to be a translator, not a yakuza mastermind. Migrant workers who come from South East Asian countries tend to simply want a job to make money to send back home to their families. That’s it, that’s the grand plan for poor people, it’s not to burn down your house and “ruin the country” you troglodytes.
The other ridiculous argument goes something along the lines of, “Well, it keeps people from running out on contracts!” or “It gives the employers and companies security to keep their people!” It also intimidates and oppresses workers from calling out unjust working practices and isolates them from help, which is exactly the reason (as mentioned previously) it’s a tactic often used by sex traffickers to keep victims from running to the police or the government.
Ever had to make an official police statement in Japan? Ever been harassed by the police? Ever just been black in Japan? The zairyu (residence) card can work as a single ID when you’re white, but God help you if you’re literally any other skin tone. They will demand to see your passport, they will want proof you’re card is legit, and if you don’t prove it? You don’t have to be charged in Japan to be held for 23 days.
Let’s be clear, the Western white people aren’t in danger of getting their passports taken away. Passport withholding and forced labor will generally be a POC issue, and Japanese news doesn’t do well with race issues. Instead, it is focused on “this Filipino lady is suing her employer” angle. It is all about business, it’s not about human rights.
Protecting companies from losing potential employees shouldn’t be the priority here; it should be protecting people from ending up abused or enslaved.
The Illusion of “Safe Japan”
Many people would argue “That’s an exaggeration! Japan is so safe!” but abuses involved with passport theft has been happening in countries around the world. In the UAE, even though there is a law against it, people are still finding themselves held hostage by their employers. There are several viral stories that have hit the news cycle about the unsafe and abusive working conditions. A housemaid (*cough* slave *cough*) was allowed to fall from a balcony after pleading for help. Her Kuwaiti employer let her fall after posting the story to her goddamn Snapchat.
If you watch the video above you’ll find that social media influencer Sondos Alqattan actually argued against better working conditions for Filipino people and holding their passports, because garbage people gotta be garbage.
[H]ow can you have a servant in your house that gets to keep their passport with them? Where are we living? If they ran away and went back to their country, who will refund me?You can get your refund in hell, Sondos Alqattan
She picked a great time to get on that high horse, too, because it was around the same time of the Joanna Demafelis murder by, you guessed it, her own employers in Kuwait. President Duterte even put a hold on Filipino migrants going to Kuwait and other countries until the laws changed to better protect the workers.
People assume Japan is safe, but that isn’t true for foreign workers. As of March 2019, 759 cases of abuse and 171 deaths are suspected from the Japanese intern program. The Japan Times reported:
The officials revealed that in 28 of the deaths, trainees died due to accidents that occurred on the job, including by drowning after falling off of fishing boats or suffering from heat exhaustion.
Another 59 interns died from sickness. Among them were two trainees who had logged overtime and whose cases were reported to the labor standards inspection office because their working hours were hovering around the life-threateningly high cap specified in Article 36 of the Labor Standards Law.
The fatal cases included 17 suicides, including one case in which a trainee was given only four days off over 3½ months.
We are looking at a program that was specifically designed to bring people over to fill in the gaps from the population decline. These people weren’t part of that conservative nonsense about “coming here looking to steal jobs,” they were invited here by the Japanese government.
Somehow, the arguments that Japan is safe for migrant workers starts to become a rather piss poor flimsy excuse to keep a passport when you realize the working conditions can include “less than minimum wage” and “no time off.”
Oh yeah, and death.
Fine, but what now?
The Filipino woman currently fighting the good fight is all well and good, but she’s far from the only person who is dealing with this massive injustice. Spread the word about this case and start talking about the realities migrant workers face in Japan, because honestly I don’t anyone really gets the full depth of the issue at hand.
We’re talking about more than just one case, we’re talking about systematic failings and injustice that aren’t being seen as “a big deal,” because public perception of these cases is always tinged with racist vitriol and paltry excuses about the perceived image of Japan instead of the reality.
If you want to be more proactive and make a difference, you can donate to POSSE, the non-profit organization that is dedicated to labor rights in Japan. They’re currently doing a donation drive in order to help the Filipino woman, as in paying for lawyer fees and etc. I was seriously disheartened to see the organization wasn’t mentioned in literally any of the news articles I read, and from the looks of the donation site it’s not getting the attention it needs.
If you think your company is doing something illegal or they are holding your documents, you can contact POSSE.
If you think that isn’t the way you want to go, Jobs in Japan has a pretty extensive article that lists laws and links to good resources. The best resource in my opinion for fighting to get back lost wages is to hit up Hello Work. You might need a translator or interpreter depending on the office, so hit up Tokyo Employment Service for Foreigners and they can help you find an office that can work with you in your native tongue.
It also helps to know your rights in depth and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has an entire Working Conditions Handbook in multiple languages in its Labour section.
Be aware, you can call on behalf of people you suspect are being abused.
And finally, the best thing you can do? Never, ever give your employer your passport to keep. Give them printed copies and if they fight you on it, leave immediately and call the hotline.
I would also just like to point out, for no particular reason, that the *AdvanceConsul Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists’ Office/ Advanceconsul Immigration Lawyer Office is shady as hell. I don’t know why you would ever pay someone 70,000 yen to change your visa status but pro-tip: DON’T!
*No, I don’t know why Japan Today and other news sites are calling the employers place by this long and convoluted title, but I suspect it’s a direct Japanese to English translation thing.