National

New visa statuses proposed for blue-collar workers do not offer permanent residency: justice minister

by Sarah Suk

Staff Writer

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita emphasized Friday that the government’s proposed new visa statuses for blue-collar workers with certain skills do not equate to granting permanent residency or promoting more immigration.

His comments came as his ministry unveiled details of two new types of residence status, set to be created by next April. The new statuses aim to allow people with knowledge and abilities Japan needs, in areas where local human resources are scarce, to work in the nation, where the population is aging and the workforce shrinking. To date, Japan has in principle accepted only highly skilled foreign workers.

“Japan does not have a policy of permitting (foreigners) to enter our country without a set period of stay, and the new system we are proposing is no exception,” Yamashita told a news conference, adding that some media reports suggesting the scheme is designed to let some subjects live permanently in the nation are misleading.

“The proposed system is limited to areas where there is a serious labor shortage and to foreigners who possess a certain level of expertise and skills in those areas,” he said. “Once it becomes apparent that enough human resources are secured, we will no longer accept new people (in the areas concerned).”

Yamashita said that he had explained the main points of the measure at a meeting of related Cabinet ministers earlier Friday morning.

The government plans to submit the proposal, which involves revising legislation including the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, to the Diet for approval during the upcoming extraordinary session, expected to convene later this month.

The first type of new visa status applies to foreign workers with a considerable degree of knowledge or experience in areas where human resources are lacking in Japan, according to Justice Ministry officials.

Those who fall under this category will be able to obtain renewable visas for periods ranging from one to five years for a combined total of up to five years, but will not be allowed to bring their families with them.

The second type applies to foreign individuals with seasoned skills in areas similar to those listed in the first type. Their visas will be renewable, pending necessary checks, for as long as their employment contracts are renewed. They will also be permitted to bring along their spouses and children.

Both statuses require that applicants have adequate Japanese language proficiency to get by in daily life.

People in the first category will be able to apply to switch to the second type, while those who complete the Technical Intern Training Program will be able to apply for the first type, ministry officials said.

Workers will also have the freedom to change jobs and move to another part of Japan within the same professional area and using the same expertise for which they were initially accepted.

Companies that hire workers under the new statuses, meanwhile, will be required to pay them remuneration equal to or higher than that offered to Japanese workers in the same job category. They will also be required to support the employee and help him or her adjust smoothly to living and working in Japan, or find a designated entity that can do so for them.

To ensure proper and strict examinations and checks on applicants, the Justice Ministry will upgrade the Immigration Bureau to an agency in April.

The industry and job areas applicable for the new residence statuses will be determined through discussions among related ministries and agencies, based on scenarios where efforts to fill positions domestically have not succeeded, the officials said.

Yoshihisa Saito, associate professor at Kobe University’s Graduate School of International Cooperation Studies, said industries where these new visa categories are likely to apply include agriculture, construction, manufacturing, food processing, nursing, logistics and hotels.

Saito predicted that not many people will be eligible for the second visa category.

“The second type is said to allow people to stay (in Japan) for long periods with their family, but the hurdles for this status are expected to be considerably high, so most people are likely to follow the pattern of spending three to five years as technical interns and then an additional five years” in the first category, he said.

“It’s one thing to be able to come and live here with family, but they will have to spend eight to 10 years away from their home country when they are young, working while being unable to make or spend time with their family,” Saito said. “I wonder whether foreigners, who are often part of a closer-knit family and community than seen in Japan, would be able to persevere under those circumstances.”

He urged the government to provide an accurate portrayal of what is to come, beforehand, so they will know what they are getting into.

Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare data shows that Japan had a record 1.28 million registered foreign workers as of October 2017, nearly double the figure seen five years ago.