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Japan hopes to import more foreign white-collar workers by adopting more flexible immigration policies, the government said Thursday in a bid to spruce up its international leadership.

To lure foreigners with highly advanced knowledge and skills, the government will offer longer visas — lasting five years instead of three — on a nationwide basis, the Cabinet Office said.

The five-year visa is only available in areas designated as structural reform zones, part of the current administration’s deregulation efforts.

The extended visa will be made available to academic researchers as well as investors, business managers and experts on information processing, the officials said.

But nursing-care staff may also be included as a way to help cope with the nation’s rapidly expanding elderly population and declining birthrate.

The initiative is part of the Global Strategy targets adopted Thursday by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy.

The panel, headed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, sets policy goals and numerical targets through the years up to 2010 so Japan can develop more internationally competitive labor, industries and regions and adopt foreign policies that will further global prosperity.

The targets include a government pledge for Japan to take an active role in establishing the East Asian version of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and promoting cooperation in Asia on environment and energy issues.

On the domestic front, the strategy aims to improve the English skills of Japanese and reduce the number of young graduates who can’t find or are not looking for permanent jobs.