The Pension Problem

The Pension Problem

While all attention is focused on the poor state of affairs in Japan's pension system, there is a unique problem for foreigners working in Japan that also needs to be addressed. Not many people know it, but the way the pension system is structured at the moment, foreigners living in Japan for longer than 3 years but less than 25 years, wind up paying 9% of their salary (having to be matched by their employer) into the Japanese pension system without any way to receive benefit from the contributions when they get older. Not only that, with the exception of just two countries, they can't use the Japanese contributions when they go back to their home countries.

Like a number of other countries in the world, Japan won't pay out a pension unless you've been paying into the system for at least 25 years. This means that foreigners working for less than this period not only can't collect a pension here in Japan after contributing up to JPY37 million (the top contribution rate), but when they go home, they can't collect a pension there either (for example, in Australia, you have to contribute for 25 years in order to receive a pension). Clearly this is very unfair and probably even constitutes a basic breach of human rights.

Japan seems very reluctant to allow foreigners to have reciprocating pension arrangements. So far, there are only two countries, Germany and the UK which have pension reciprocal agreements. Probably the government knows that the 80,000 (approx.) Westerners in Japan, who are typically highly paid, are contributing somewhere between JPY100 and JPY200 billion a year to the national pension coffers without any associated costs, and thus it is dragging its feet in terms of offering pension agreements with citizens of other countries. For example, in April of 1995, the Canadian and Japanese governments agreed to have working level discussions to introduce a Canada-Japan pension agreement - but now, over 9 years later, there is still no substantial progress.

Actually, the Canadian pension case is an interesting one. There are over 1,800 Japanese working in Canada (over 34,000 actually live there), and for each Japanese, the contribution to the Canadian pension system, borne by the employer, is just CN$1,330 a year. In contrast, a Canadian employer's contribution in Japan, is JPY746,000 (top rate), about 8 times more. So not only is the current system unfair to foreign individuals, but also to companies as well.

In defense of the Japanese government, in November of 1994, they introduced a system which lets foreigners claim up to 3 years of their pension payments back if they leave the country. But these refunds only apply to the individual. Companies don't qualify for a refund, even though the purpose of pension contributions will never be used.

Also, why the 3-year limit on contribution refunds? In a recent Japan Times interview with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ministry officials suggested that the bulk of foreigners (90%) leave Japan within 3 years, so the refund period was limited to this. However, unless the Japanese government introduces reciprocal pension agreements with other countries, those 10% of people who stay significantly longer than 3 years and who are making contributions to the country, are being doubly punished - not being able to collect a pension either in Japan or their own country, and also not being able to retrieve any of their contributions beyond a mere 3 years.

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