The government is considering allowing blue-collar foreign workers with certain skills to live permanently in the country with their families, as Japan struggles with a serious labor shortage amid a declining population, sources said Thursday.
In what would represent a turning point for the country’s immigration policy, which more or less sanctions only the entry of highly skilled professionals, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to open the door to blue-collar foreign workers by introducing a new system next April.
The government is studying two new types of residence status for foreign workers, who must have Japanese language proficiency as well as knowledge and experience in one of more than 10 fields. Those sectors include nursing care, agriculture and construction, according to the sources.
Those who qualify for the first type of residence status will be issued a visa valid up to five years but will not be allowed to bring their family members.
Those who qualify for the second type — namely, highly skilled laborers — will be offered permanent residence status and allowed to bring their family members to Japan.
To qualify for either, workers must be able to speak conversational Japanese and pass exams conducted by ministries overseeing each industry. Those who hold the first type of residence status will also have a chance to apply for the second type.
Foreign workers staying in Japan under the existing government-sponsored technical training program will also be able to obtain the first status. If successful, they would be able to work in Japan for up to 10 years, the sources added.
Companies wishing to employ them will need to meet some conditions as well, including paying wages equal or in excess of those offered to Japanese workers.
The Justice Ministry is planning to set up an affiliated agency that will be solely tasked with accepting foreign workers.
To create the new residence status categories, the government aims to submit bills to revise relevant laws when an extraordinary Diet session is convened later in the month. It will present the outline of the measures at a meeting of the Cabinet ministers concerned on Friday, the sources said.
The government also plans to provide livelihood support to foreign workers under the new system.
As of October last year, the number of foreign workers in Japan hit a record 1.28 million, doubling from 680,000 in 2012, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The figures include part-time workers with student visas and trainees under the technical training program.
Of them, Chinese accounted for the largest group at 372,263, followed by Vietnamese, Filipinos, Brazilians and Nepalese.