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Japan will overhaul Immigration Bureau to create agency for expected surge of blue-collar workers under new status

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

The Justice Ministry will upgrade its Immigration Bureau to an agency from April to deal with an anticipated influx of foreign workers, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

With the government seeking to accept more foreign workers from April and introducing a new status of residence amid a serious labor crunch across industries, the Justice Ministry will be conducting “a fundamental revision of the Immigration Bureau” and is currently finalizing the establishment of a new agency that will oversee immigration, Kamikawa said.

When asked about how the overhaul may affect the ministry’s budgetary request for the next fiscal year, Kamikawa refrained from commenting on specifics, merely stating that “the funding needed to set up the agency will be requested as necessary.”

Media has reported that the upgrade of the bureau will see an increase of over 500 ministry staff and immigration officers, with the latter expected to help the country boost checks for inbound tourists ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Reports have also said that the ministry will be requesting about ¥3 billion within their fiscal 2019 budget for outlays related to the overhaul.

An official at the Justice Ministry did not comment on the reported figures.

The upgrade of the Immigration Bureau comes as Japan, facing a declining population and shrinking workforce, plans to open the door to blue-collar laborers from abroad, in addition to the currently accepted highly skilled foreigners, by introducing a new resident status.

The new system will allow foreign nationals who are proficient speakers of Japanese to work in agriculture, construction, hospitality, nursing and shipbuilding, and may be expanded to other sectors.

The government has so far confirmed that foreign workers will not be able to bring family members under the new residency status, and that their stay will be limited to five years.

According to figures provided by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of registered foreign workers in the nation hit a record high of 1.28 million in October 2017 — a twofold increase from the 486,398 foreign nationals seen in 2008.

On the other hand, the number of people in Japan aged between 15 to 64 who are capable of working decreased from 86.99 million in 1997 to 76.65 million in 2016, according to data submitted to the Council of Economic Fiscal Policy in February.

Information from Kyodo added