National

Japanese government to mull new work visa to help more labor-hungry professions: top government spokesman

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The government is mulling an update to the nation’s visa system in order to accept more foreign workers in a growing number of professions facing manpower shortages, including those that serve the labor-hungry restaurant and fisheries industries, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday.

As Japan grapples with an acute labor shortage, the government is eager to establish a new work visa with a view toward making it available as soon as April next year, the top government spokesman said.

He added that, in an ongoing ministerial hearing of various industry groups, a dozen business sectors have so far expressed interest in utilizing foreign workers via the new visa status, including groups representing the restaurant and fisheries industries.

The government is also reportedly eyeing letting foreign workers enter the country to work in five of the most short-staffed sectors — namely in the agriculture, construction, nursing, hotel and ship-building industries.

“We want to create a system to accept a wider range of industry-ready foreign talent with a certain level of technical skills,” Suga told a regular news briefing Wednesday, echoing an earlier government statement.

Suga’s comments followed a speech he delivered earlier in the day in Tokyo where he reportedly said the government plans to submit related amendments to the immigration law during an extraordinary session of the Diet expected to kick off at the end of next month.

He also said that, according to reports, the sectors that are most keen to accept foreign workers have been plagued by such serious manpower shortages that “their operations would become severely derailed” without the help.

Immigration-averse Japan officially maintains a policy of not letting in unskilled foreign workers, although in reality the nation already heavily relies on their services, tapping into “backdoor” employment channels through the use of technical interns and students.

Suga’s latest remark is in line with a series of immigration policies adopted in June by the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The panel’s guidelines, approved by the Cabinet, said that in a rapidly aging Japan, the “sustainability of its economy and infrastructure is in danger” due to a labor crunch but also stressed that the country remains opposed to full-fledged immigration.

The government, the guideline said, will home in on business categories “truly in need” of foreign labor and create a new work visa valid for up to five years. The temporary nature of the envisioned status, it said, means the new policy wouldn’t amount to Japan opening itself up to new immigration.

Among the most closely monitored sectors is the convenience store industry, where foreign students hailing from countries like China, Vietnam and Nepal already play a vital role in meeting its labor needs. Those on a student visa, however, are banned from working more than 28 hours a week.

It remains to be seen whether the government will go so far as to give the green light for more foreign workers to work in that sector. Tokyo, however, “recognizes it’s an industry everybody is curious about, and we realize we have to do something about it, one way or another,” a senior government official said.

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