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.