On 24 July 2019, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised the Consultation Meeting on Labour Migration from Vietnam to Japan in Hanoi, Vietnam. The consultation provided a platform for representatives of different stakeholders to exchange information about recruitment procedures from Vietnam to Japan and jointly explore interventions and strategies to improve protections provided to migrant workers. The workshop was organised in anticipation of increased labour migration from Vietnam to Japan as Japan seeks to plug gaps in its rapidly shrinking labour force. Under the Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), Vietnam is Japan’s largest source of migrant workers, and numbers are expected to increase following the Japanese government’s announcement that it intends to welcome an additional 345,000 migrant workers within five years. To facilitate this policy change, Japan amended its strict immigration laws and added a new “Specified Skilled Worker” (SSW) visa category. In July 2019, Japan signed a bilateral Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with Vietnam to facilitate the implementation of the new scheme.
Given these developments, the MMN gathered a diverse group of over 50 participants to exchange views, including representatives of the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam, the Department of Overseas Labour under the Ministry of Labour-Invalids and Social Affairs in Vietnam, the Vietnam Association of Manpower and Supply VAMAS, intergovernmental organisations, civil society organisations and private recruitment agencies.
The consultation began with a plenary entitled, “The Recruitment and Deployment of Vietnamese Workers to Japan: Policies, Trends and Gaps.” In his presentation, Mr Nguyen Ngoc Quynh, Vice President of VAMAS, urged the governments of Japan and Vietnam to quickly design guidelines for the implementation of the “Specified Skilled Workers” visa category, especially on specifying responsibilities of recruitment agencies and details on the collection of recruitment fees. Having these guidelines could help prevent intermediaries from engaging in unscrupulous and illegal recruitment activities, such as charging prospective workers exorbitant fees. Mr Nguyen also shared about the VAMAS’s industry Code of Conduct (CoC), which provides guidelines on good recruitment practices, as well as a ranking system to rate recruitment agencies’ compliance with the code. So far, approximately 120 recruitment agencies have signed the CoC.
In the following presentation, Ms Nguyen Thi Mai Thuy, the National Programme Coordinator of the Labour Migration TRIANGLE in ASEAN Programme, International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office in Hanoi, highlighted a number of issues Vietnamese migrant workers face during their migration to Japan, including high recruitment fees. While recruitment agencies in Vietnam can charge no more than 3600 USD by law, there have been cases where prospective workers paid as much as 7000 to 10,000 USD. High recruitment fees can be one reason why migrant workers incur huge debt before they migrate. In 2019, the ILO published the General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment and Definition of Recruitment Fees and Related Cost, which provides a comprehensive definition of recruitment fees. According to the document, no recruitment fees or related costs should be borne by workers. The ILO has also raised issues related to high recruitment fees to the Vietnamese government.
In the second plenary entitled, “The Employment of Migrant Workers to Japan: Policies, Trends and Gaps”, Mr Mikio Hayashi, First Secretary, Embassy of Japan in Vietnam, presented on the trends of labour migration from Vietnam to Japan and details of the Memorandum of Cooperation on Specified Skilled Workers signed between Japan and Vietnam. Mr Hayashi also highlighted activities of the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam in supporting migrant workers, such as cooperating with the Vietnamese government to clamp down on intermediaries that have engaged in illegal and unscrupulous behaviours and organising seminars in different parts of Vietnam to disseminate information on migration under the TITP and the Economic Partnership Agreement between Vietnam and Japan.
Associate Professor Asato Wako from Kyoto University noted that while the Japanese government has adopted a more rights-based approach in developing the “Specified Skilled Workers” migration pathway, certain well-intentioned components of the scheme will be difficult to implement. For example, the SSW scheme enables employers in Japan to directly hire migrant workers in order to prevent illegal recruitment activities. However, in reality, prospective migrant workers in countries like Vietnam and Cambodia will still have to go through recruitment agencies for the foreseeable future due to a lack of job-matching services for migrant workers, as well as due to requirements of countries of origin. Professor Asato also stressed that the use of the term “runaways” to describe migrant workers who have left their jobs without terminating their contracts is not appropriate, as it implies wrongdoing on the part of migrants. Migrant workers sometimes leave their jobs in search of better employment opportunities if they have a heavy financial burden, which is often a result of high recruitment fees. On average, migrant workers who leave their jobs under the TITP paid 5000 USD as recruitment fees before departure, exceeding the legal cap in Vietnam.
After the plenaries, participants explored the opportunities and challenges involved in ethical recruitment, human resource development and achieving decent work. Based on the results of the discussion, participants collectively came up with several recommendations to improve the protection of migrant workers throughout their migration cycle. These recommendations include improving the quality of pre-departure training provided to migrant workers, increasing cooperation between stakeholders in Japan and Vietnam, and clarifying the roles of government agencies, recruitment agencies and accepting organisations in Japan in efforts to protect migrant workers’ rights.