Initiative fails to lure high-skilled foreigners

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

After drawing too few applicants, a government-led initiative to attract “highly skilled foreigners” was overhauled Tuesday by the Justice Ministry.

Started in May 2012, the program is designed to shore up the thinning domestic labor force. Statistics from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research show the population will plunge to about 90 million by 2050 from 127 million at present.

Foreign applicants receive “points” based on such criteria as academic achievement, career background and annual income. More than 70 points earns access to a raft of visa perks, such as the right to work no matter the visa status, visas for parents and housekeepers to care for children, and a fast track to permanent residence. Examples of highly skilled professionals include researchers, university professors, corporate executives and engineers.

While the ministry believed 2,000 foreign residents in Japan a year would qualify, only 700 had applied as of September, immigration bureau official Nobuko Fukuhara said.

The system has been criticized as setting too high a bar for applicants. For example, those under 30 years of age had to earn at least ¥3.4 million annually to qualify, while those over 40 needed to exceed ¥6 million.

With the changes Tuesday, anyone earning over ¥3 million is eligible. The minimum income requirement will be scrapped altogether for academics, who are at a disadvantage due to their relatively lower income.

In another move to help academics, their scholarly achievements will be given more points.

Bonus points will also be added for applicants’ Japanese language skills and experience studying at Japanese schools.

“We’re fully aware just giving foreigners visa perks wouldn’t be such a big incentive for them to come to Japan,” said Fukuhara, who noted Japan needs to adopt more fundamental reforms, such as raising salaries.

  • Steve Jackman

    There are two big problems that the Japanese government needs to address, before qualified foreign professionals will come to Japan.

    First, Japanese companies need to offer the same working conditions and job protections under Japanese labor laws to foreign workers, as they provide Japanese workers. As things stand right now, it is well known within Japanese companies that even though foreign workers may be entitled to these rights on paper, in reality Japanese companies do not extend them to foreign workers like they do to Japanese workers. Furthermore, the Japanese government and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare gives these companies their tacit approval to not protect the basic rights of foreign workers to secure employment and decent working conditions, and to ignore Japanese labor laws.

    Second, the Japanese justice system needs to uphold Japanese labor laws in cases of foreign workers. The Japanese courts and lawyers do not currently protect the basic rights of foreign workers, which they are entitled to under Japanese labor laws. The Japanese courts and lawyers have to stop discriminating against foreign workers.

    Highly skilled foreign workers will come to Japan and stay here only if their basic right to job security under Japanese labor laws is protected by Japanese companies and its legal system. If they are exploited and their civil rights under the labor laws are violated, I do not see any way that these foreign workers will stay in Japan, even if, Japan is successful in initially attracting them here. It is vital for foreign workers to have basic job security and protections under the country’s labor laws, if they are to come and stay here for the long term.