Japan tells guest workers: don't come back!

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

Audio Transcript:

LISA MULLINS: Japan is offering a deal. It says it's going to pay for hundreds of thousands of South American migrants to go home. Catch is, they can't come back. They have to agree never to work in Japan again. It's all part of Japan's efforts to reduce unemployment. Many Brazilian and Peruvian workers there have lost their jobs in the economic downturn, but as Akiko Fujita reports not that many are jumping at the offer.

AKIKO FUJITA: DJ Carlos Zahal crams into a tiny studio and prepares for another day of top 20 hits. Zahal broadcasts his Portuguese language station Radio Phoenix from Hamamatsu, the heart of Japan's Brazilian community. Listeners tune in every day to hear the latest songs from their native country but these days it's political talk not pop music dominating the airwaves. Callers sound off on unemployment, how the governments plans to tackle it. It's been that way since Japan began offering a one-way plane ticket home to foreign guest workers last month. The offer only applies to Brazilian and Peruvians of Japanese descent. Most worked in the car parts manufacturing industry here, but when the global economic crisis hit last year, these workers were the first to get caught. Now, the government wants them to leave so unemployment numbers go down. But if they take the government's offer, they can't get work visas in Japan again. Margarita Masseo Choza says she'd like to visit her home country so the free ticket is tempting. The single mother lost her job at a bike parts manufacturer in April. She says nobody's hiring now and she'll be forced out of her apartment at the end of the month. Choza says, �The most important thing right now is our life. I just want to make sure my son is okay.� The government says nearly eleven hundred have applied for the tickets home so far. That's just 3% of the Brazilian and Peruvian population in Japan. Many moved here in the early 90s when Japan had a labor shortage. The government relaxed immigration rules to attract South American workers of Japanese descent. Zahalsays the work ads in Brazil promise lucrative pay.

ZAHAL: They all said you didn't have to speak the language. The same job that paid $300 in Brazil, paid 3,000 in Japan.

FUJITA: But now those jobs are gone. Hedanoi Sakanaka used to work at the Bureau of Immigration. He championed the law that allowed those like Zahal to work here. He says the government's current offer is a big mistake. �To not allow those guest workers to return is ridiculous,� he says. Sakanaka says a handful of politicians snuck the plan into a larger stimulus package. He insists most of the country's leaders support foreign workers and points to a $20 Million program as one example. In January, the government opened up language schools to help workers and their families improve their Japanese. It also increased worker training programs for the unemployed. He says that's unheard of in a country that hasn't historically welcomed immigrants, but the country's population declining at a record pace. Sakanaka says Japan will need foreign workers to fill future jobs. Margarita Massa Choza says she'll wait until the end of the month to make a decision. She likes Brazil but she doesn't think she can find work there, and after 19 years in Japan it's hard for her to imagine living anywhere else. For The World, I'm Akiko Fujita, Hamamatsu, Japan.