- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

TOKYO (AP) - Japan began offering money Wednesday for unemployed foreigners of Japanese ancestry to go home, mostly to Brazil and Peru, to stave off what officials said posed a serious unemployment problem.

Thousands of foreigners of Japanese ancestry, who had been hired on temporary or referral contracts, have lost their jobs recently, mostly at manufacturers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and its affiliates, which are struggling to cope with a global downturn.

The number of foreigners seeking government help to find jobs has climbed in recent months to 11 times the previous year at more than 9,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

“The program is to respond to a growing social problem,” said ministry official Hiroshi Yamashita.

Japan has tight immigration laws, and generally allows only skilled foreign workers to enter the country. The new program applies only to Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry who have gotten special visas to do assembly line and other manufacturing labor. It does not apply to other foreigners in Japan, Yamashita said.

The government will give 300,000 yen ($3,000) to an unemployed foreigner of Japanese ancestry who wishes to leave the country, and 200,000 ($2,000) each to family members, the ministry said. But they must forgo returning to Japan. The budget for the aid is still undecided, it said.

The visa program for South Americans of Japanese ancestry was introduced partly in response to a labor shortage in Japan, where the population is shrinking and aging. But the need for such workers has dwindled in recent months after the global financial crisis hit last year. The jobless rate has risen to 4.4 percent, a three-year high.

Tokyo has already allocated 1.08 billion yen ($10.9 million) for training, including Japanese language lessons, for 5,000 foreign workers of Japanese ancestry.

Major companies traditionally offer lifetime employment to their rank and file, and so workers hired on temporary contracts have been the first to lose their jobs in this recession.

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