The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will consider asking the central government for special deregulated zone status so it can bring in more foreign housekeepers, emulating the Kanagawa and Osaka prefectural governments, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said Tuesday.

Japan’s strict immigration policy has prevented foreigners from entering the country for domestic work, such as housekeeping, cooking, laundry and baby-sitting.

But, given Japan’s projected labor shortage and low birth rate, the central government is designating several special deregulated zones where prefectural governments can authorize private personnel agencies to introduce housekeepers from overseas.

Masuzoe said the metropolitan government sees foreign housekeepers as a way to relieve the burden on working women in Japan, a policy goal of the central government.

“Their work would become easier if they had a housekeeper at home,” Masuzoe told reporters at the Cabinet Office after attending a conference on the zones.

Earlier Masuzoe expressed caution about the idea of applying for the status, saying Japan has large numbers of retired elderly women who are willing to work in households raising children.

On Tuesday, he emphasized that the country’s own workforce should be tapped before non-Japanese are brought in but said the two categories would “complement each other.”

If Tokyo’s application is approved, the capital will probably see an influx of foreign help, most likely Filipinos. What is unclear is how common domestic assistance services will become in Tokyo. For now, the central government has decided to introduce the new deregulation zones only “on a trial basis.”

In addition, foreign housekeepers will be obliged to return to their home countries after working here for three years — a rule apparently designed to prevent them from settling permanently in Japan.

In the meantime, any foreign housekeepers will be protected under the Labor Standards Act and be entitled to the same level of wages earned by Japanese. This means families who can afford such helpers will likely to be mostly from middle- and high-income households.

Foreign housekeepers will be required to have basic Japanese-language skills. The minimum level is N4, which includes the ability to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji, and the ability to understand daily conversation conducted at slow speeds.

Kanagawa was the first to file for the status of special deregulated zone status. It began soliciting businesses interested in becoming personnel agencies for foreign housekeepers in March but has not yet receive any formal applications, said Fumiko Yasui, an official in the labor and welfare policy section of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to ease visa rules for highly skilled professionals to attract more foreign businesses and direct investment in Japan.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.