Since the late 1980s, the Latin American population in Japan has rapidly increased to nearly 400,000 in 2007, despite the long-term recession in the late 1990s. They were given privileged visa status as descendents of Japanese nationals and incorporated into the upper end of loosely structured secondary labour market. It was these Latin Americans, however, who were hit by far the hardest by the recent economic crisis in Japan. About half of Latin American workers are said to have lost their jobs from September 2008 to March 2009, while the unemployment rate in Japan was below 5% in the same period. In this paper, I will consider the causes of mass unemployment of Japanese-Latin Americans by analyzing the labour market of and integration policies toward them based on my fieldwork and survey research in Japan, Brazil and Argentina since 1997. The constant increase of Latin Americans in Japan was enabled by the changing mode of their incorporation into the Japanese labour market: they were getting incorporated as the more flexible workforce adjusted to a “just-in-time” labour delivery system brokered by labour contractors, which led them extremely precarious conditions. In addition, the lack of economic integration policies kept Latin American workers marginalized in the labour market. In Japan, it was not national but local governments that promptly responded to the increasing number of migrants. However, their integration policies solely paid attention to cultural differences between Japanese and foreign nationals. In fact, Japanese government did not provide such programs as vocational and language trainings necessary for upward mobility, ignoring the fact that migrants are socio-economic minorities. The absence of policy response, as well as the deterioration of working conditions of Latin American workers, lies behind the sudden mass unemployment of Latin American workers during the economic crisis.
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