Lifeline dollars made in
Japan By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO - Remittances sent home by tens of
thousands of foreign workers, both undocumented and
legit, have made Japan a leading source of foreign
exchange for developing countries - surpassing even
Tokyo's foreign aid budget.
from poor countries earn much more in Japan than in
other countries that have migrant labor. As a result,
remittances from these workers are becoming very
important for those governments," said Takashi Kadokura,
senior economist at Dai-ichi-Life Research Institute, a
think-tank affiliated with Japan's second-largest
insurance company, Dai-ichi Mutual Life Insurance.
According to estimates, foreign workers send
home more than 900 billion yen (US$8.16 billion)
annually - a lifesaver for their poor families back
home. Kadokura, who is investigating Japan's underground
economy, says at the top of the remittance list are
Chinese, Filipinos, Thais and South Koreans.
Last year, Japanese authorities estimated that
there were 250,000 illegal workers in the country, many
of them Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Burmese and Sri
Lankans. While actual figures are hard to come by given
that most workers are undocumented, Kadokura says
Chinese, Koreans and Filipinos send home 608.2 billion
yen ($5.50 billion) annually.
In a report
released last October, Kadokura found that Filipino
workers in Japan sent home $413 million in 2003 and were
the Philippines' third-largest source of remittances
after Filipino workers in the United States and Saudi
Arabia. "Remittances from overseas workers hover at the
top of the list of foreign earnings that support the
Philippine economy. Thus remittances from here have
raised the profile of migrating to Japan," he says.
According to Kadokura, Chinese workers - Japan's
largest migrant population - send home around $5.5
billion annually. Much of this is undeclared for
taxation purposes and sent back to China through illegal
means, as many workers don't have legal visas. Chinese
and other nationals operating small businesses such as
retail shops in Japan also offer services to illegal
workers who need to send money home, Kadokura adds.
Latin American and Caribbean nationals, who are
legally accepted in Japan if they are descendants of
Japanese who migrated to the region in the 1930s, are
also a major source of foreign income for their
countries. Brazil received $2.5 billion last year from
remittances of its citizens in Japan.
officials have come to view remittances as an important
development tool. Japan is the world's second-largest
foreign aid donor after the United States. In the fiscal
period ending on March 31, the country dispensed $7.82
billion in official development aid. By many estimates,
foreign workers in Japan annually remit more than that
to their home countries. "This is money that goes
directly into the pockets of poor people," Enrique
Iglesias, president of the Inter-American Development
Bank, said on a recent trip to Tokyo.
most influential business lobby, Japan Business
Federation (Nippon Keidanren), is urging the government
to conclude with its Asian neighbors bilateral trade
agreements that recognize the country's need to open its
doors to skilled foreign workers. The Keidanren has been
pressing Japan to conclude agreements with the
Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand - all Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members - as well as
"There needs to be a common
foundation for free economic activity without
restrictions and regulations," Kiyoaki Shimagami, head
of a Keidanren task force, said at a recent symposium.
While illegal immigrants are attracted to the
underground banks because they cannot usually open
legitimate bank accounts, legal foreign workers in Japan
- especially those from Peru - are able to use the
services of Convenio Kyodai Japon, one of the country's
few banks that operates officially to send remittances
to Latin America.
Japan has 52,000 registered
Peruvian workers, the fifth-largest community of migrant
workers in the country. Yukiko Horiuchi, a spokesperson
for the bank, says it has 40,000 Peruvian clients who
send back 30-40% of their salaries. "Our services are
well sought after by Peruvians because our commission is
half that charged by other Japanese banks," said
Horiuchi. "We also speak the same language."
Kyodai, which means "relatives" in Japanese,
started out as a shop selling Peruvian groceries and
expanded as migrants grew. With Japan enforcing stricter
rules on foreign workers, Kyodai can only cater to
Peruvians working officially in Japan.
senior economist Kadokura, "The Japanese government
should make foreign workers work legally and use their
remittances as an important way of promoting better
economic and friendly relations with their countries."
(Inter Press Service)
Sep 11, 2004
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