Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe, second from left, checks his watch on Nov. 27 after the Lower House plenary session passed legislation to establish a new work visa for foreign nationals. (Nobuo Fujiwara)

The Lower House passed legislation on Nov. 27 to allow more foreign workers into Japan, but key issues that have incensed opposition lawmakers remain unresolved even though the new visa program is set to be in place by April.

Much of the criticism centers around the government's unseemly haste in rushing ahead with the legislation that is vague on numbers and was presented as a way to address the nation's worker shortage.

Opposition parties, citing a lack of specifics in the legislation to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, said it effectively gave carte blanche to the government to allow in many thousands of foreign workers even though appropriate social infrastructure may not be in place to ensure their smooth transition into Japanese society.

The Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee kicked off deliberations on the issue on Nov. 21. The committee chairman, Yasuhiro Hanashi, used his prerogative to speed up the proceedings to ensure the bills passed his committee by Nov. 27 so they could be sent to the lower chamber the same day.

The Nov. 27 deadline was intended to ensure that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could attend the Upper House plenary session on Nov. 28, when the work visa legislation was presented to the chamber, before leaving the following day for the Group of 20 summit in Argentina.

The timetable meant that only 17 hours and 15 minutes were devoted to the deliberations in the Judicial Affairs Committee instead of the minimum 20 hours that the ruling coalition and opposition had agreed were required for such important legislation.

Not only was that informal guideline ignored, but the total deliberation time also included the hours opposition party lawmakers boycotted the session while government ministers such as Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita simply sat around in the committee room with nothing to do.

Moreover, the lack of specifics in the legislation about which business sectors would be allowed to hire foreign nationals entering under the specific skills visa as well as the number of new arrivals led opposition camp lawmakers to argue that the government would have too much of a free hand to use the system as it pleased.

The Justice Ministry is planning to issue a ministerial order after the legislation becomes law to fill in those gaps and explain how the new work visas will be implemented.

After the Judicial Affairs Committee approved the bills, lawmakers from six opposition parties met with Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima to request he not put the matter to a vote before the entire chamber.

But rather than agree to the request, Oshima presented his ideas on what the government should do from now until April, when the new work visa program is set to start.

According to opposition lawmakers, Oshima indicated he would ask the government and ruling coalition to present broad brushstrokes of the new program to the Diet before April.

Oshima also made clear he thought time should be set aside in the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee before the revised law is enacted to allow for more detailed questioning about the new system.

Gratified by his responses, opposition lawmakers attended the plenary session later on Nov. 27 when the legislation was passed.