Ja­pan un­veils plan to at­tract more for­eign work­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

TOKYO — Ja­pan on Fri­day un­veiled a plan to at­tract more for­eign blue-col­lar work­ers, as the world’s num­ber-three econ­omy bat­tles a la­bor short­age caused by an ag­ing and shrink­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The plan re­port­edly aims to fill gap­ing short­ages in sec­tors such as agri­cul­ture, nurs­ing, con­struc­tion, ho­tels and ship­build­ing.

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.

For­eign work­ers in those fields who hold stronger qual­i­fi­ca­tions and pass a Ja­pa­nese lan­guage test will also be al­lowed to bring fam­ily mem­bers and can ob­tain per­ma­nent res­i­dency sta­tus.

Govern­ment spokesman Yoshi­hide Suga told re­porters on Fri­day that the bill would be sub­mit­ted to par­lia­ment “at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble time”, with a pos­si­ble launch in April.

Ja­pan has tra­di­tion­ally been cau­tious about ac­cept­ing un­skilled work­ers from abroad and cur­rently lim­its res­i­den­tial sta­tus to highly skilled pro­fes­sion­als.

The only ex­cep­tion to this rule is for South Amer­i­cans of Ja­pa­nese de­scent.

And Ja­pa­nese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s govern­ment has stressed the re­forms are not in­tended as a whole­sale over­haul of Ja­pa­nese im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, and mass im­mi­gra­tion is not ex­pected.

Ja­pan will not rely heav­ily on for­eign im­mi­grants and the pol­icy “re­mains un­changed”, Suga said, asked if this rep­re­sented a dras­tic shift in im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy to­ward ac­cept­ing a large num­ber of for­eign­ers.

Busi­nesses have long lob­bied for looser im­mi­gra­tion rules, say­ing they strug­gle to find work­ers in a coun­try where unem­ploy­ment hov­ers around 2.5 per­cent and there are 163 job va­can­cies to ev­ery 100 job seek­ers.

The govern­ment has not set a tar­get for for­eign work­ers un­der the new pro­pos­als, although lo­cal me­dia put the fig­ure at more than 500,000 peo­ple by 2025.

Ac­cord­ing to govern­ment fig­ures, 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 af­ter­ward.

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.

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