Japanese fluency could ease visa conditions

Kyodo News

Conditions for resident visa status of skilled foreign workers such as engineers may be relaxed if they attain a certain level of proficiency in Japanese, government sources said Monday.

The measures, including shortening the required number of years of work experience required, are being considered both to increase the variety of foreign workers being accepted in Japan and to encourage more foreigners to study Japanese, the sources said.

The relaxed conditions would be applicable to foreigners who want to enter Japan for specialist or technical jobs, they said.

Resident visa status for foreigners staying and working in Japan for a long time is classified under the immigration law by type of job — with exceptions such as spouses or descendants of Japanese nationals, who are not restricted in working in Japan.

Engineers, for example, are permitted to enter Japan to work in technical fields if they have graduated from a university in that subject or have work experience of at least 10 years.

The Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry are considering shortening the number of years of work experience required to about five from 10, according to the sources.

They are also considering using the annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test to gauge applicants’ Japanese ability, the sources said.

In fiscal 2006, about 440,000 people in Japan and 46 countries and territories took the test offered by Japan Education Exchanges and Services, which estimates that 2.98 million people study Japanese abroad.

There is concern that relaxing conditions could lead to a decrease in the quality of workers, but if they have proficiency in Japanese they would be able to learn the relevant skills in Japan, the sources said.

Japan decided in 1999 to begin actively accepting skilled foreign workers while keeping its restrictions on unskilled workers.

On Jan. 15, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura unveiled a plan to consider Japanese proficiency one of the conditions for foreigners to stay in Japan.