Last Sunday was the first meeting of the Kawasaki Representative Assembly of Foreign Residents of this fiscal year. The first meeting should have been in April, but after the earthquake quite a few of the representatives were temporarily out of Japan, and the city authorities had a lot of other things to organise, so it was postponed. One of the things we had to decide on Sunday was when to have an additional meeting to make up the numbers; fortunately, that was quite easy.
In the Life and Society subcommittee, we were discussing work and pensions. This is the first of the deeper topics we are looking at, and the discussion went well. We first looked at the support available to foreigners looking for work, and that didn’t take too long, because the support available seems quite good. There are centres aimed at providing advice to foreigners in various positions: those on visas like spousal visas, which don’t restrict their jobs; those on specialist visas; and students looking for part-time work. They are also willing to go slightly beyond their official remit, to cover foreigners who are in effectively the same position, even if the reason is different. (For example, people accompanying another foreigner on a family visa have about the same restrictions on work as students, so the centre that deals with students looking for part-time work will also help them.) As normal, the problem was whether the people who need to know about the support do, and how we could make sure that the information gets to them. However, this is not, strictly, part of our subcommittee’s remit, so we left that and moved on to pensions.
The question here is “how, exactly, do pensions work for foreigners in Japan?”. The basic answer is simple: exactly the same way they work for Japanese people in Japan. Foreigners in Japan aged between 20 and 59 are legally required to join the national pension scheme, either independently or through their company, and they are entitled to pensions under the same conditions as Japanese citizens: if you have contributed for at least 25 years, you get a pro-rata pension based on the number of years for which you paid in.
The devil really is in the details. If you arrive in Japan over the age of 40, you do not have to join the scheme, since even with a voluntary extension of payments to 65 there is no way you can get 25 years. If you leave Japan before paying in for 25 years, you are not allowed to continue paying, but you do get some money back. Unfortunately, if you’ve paid in for more than three years, you get about 18 months’ worth back, even if you’ve been paying in for 20 years. This is a well-known problem. On the other hand, if you pay in for 25 years, you get a pension, even if you leave Japan. There are also treaties with several countries, and more under negotiation, that allow you to count years paying into either country’s pension scheme towards your basic entitlement, so that 10 years in Japan plus 15 years in your home country would entitle you to 10 years worth of Japanese pension (one quarter of the full amount).
We had a lot of questions. If you leave Japan, how, exactly, is the pension paid? Bank transfer fees can be quite high. What about company pension schemes? What if you’ve paid into pension schemes in two other countries, both of which have treaties with Japan? How long does it take for a treaty to be negotiated? (Particularly relevant to the representative from a country with no treaty yet, but where negotiations have started.) And so on. The people from the secretariat are not pension specialists, so they were frequently at a loss for an answer. In the end, we decided to ask someone from the city’s pensions department to come and explain things to us; the ordinances establishing the assembly give it the power to ask people to come. Next time, we’ll put our questions to an expert, and I hope that things will become clear. I still don’t know whether we’ll actually make a direct request about pensions in the final report; there may be nothing that the city can do, in which case it’s a bit of a waste of space. We might well want to say something about it in the newsletter, however, for the information of other foreigners in the city.
I think the session went very well, and the deputy chair of the subcommittee agreed. Everyone contributed with questions and opinions, and I think we asked all the questions we wanted to, even if we didn’t get answers. Since the questions will be given to the pensions specialist in advance, there’s a very good chance that we’ll get the answers at the next session.