As part of the efforts to battle a crippling talent crunch caused by the country’s greying and shrinking population, Japan was unveiling a plan to attract more foreign blue-collar workers on Friday (Oct 12). Among the sectors that are expected to gain benefit from the new law include agriculture, nursing, construction, hotels and shipbuilding.
Under the draft legislation, foreign workers with skills in fields identified as facing labour shortages as mentioned earlier would be awarded a visa allowing them to work for up to five years.
Under the draft legislation, foreign nationals with skills in fields identified as facing shortages would be awarded a visa allowing them to work for up to five years. If they have stronger qualifications and pass a Japanese language test, these migrant workers will also be allowed to bring family members and obtain permanent residency status in the country.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga stated that the bill would be submitted to parliament “at the earliest possible time,” with a possible launch in April, AFP reports.
No target has been set by government regarding the number of foreign workers working in the country under the new proposals. Local media put the figure at more than 500,000 people by 2025.
Previously, Japan has been cautious about accepting unskilled workers from abroad and currently limits residential status to highly skilled professionals. However, there is an exception for South Americans of Japanese descent.
Businesses have long lobbied for looser immigration rules, saying they struggle to find workers in a country where unemployment hovers around 2.5 per cent and there are 163 job vacancies to every 100 job seekers.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has emphasised that the reforms are not intended as a wholesale overhaul of Japanese immigration policy, and mass immigration is not expected. Suga said that Japan will not rely heavily on foreign immigrants and the policy “remains unchanged,” asked if this represented a drastic shift in immigration policy towards accepting a large number of foreigners.
Government’s data revealed that there were 1.28 million foreign workers in Japan in 2017 – twice as many as a decade ago. But more than 450,000 of those are foreign spouses of Japanese citizens, ethnic Koreans long settled in Japan, or foreigners of Japanese descent, rather than workers coming to Japan to seek jobs. A further 300,000 are students, who are allowed to work part-time during their studies but are expected to return home afterwards.
Japan had fewer than 240,000 foreign skilled workers and just over 250,000 foreign trainees in the country in late 2017, according to government figures.
It has bilateral deals admitting limited numbers of nurses and care workers from other parts of Asia.