National / Politics

With new wave of foreign workers expected, Japanese officials envision creating immigration ministry

JIJI

With the government set to create a new immigration agency in April, some officials in Tokyo are already envisioning a day where it could be further upgraded into a ministry.

As the country looks to bring in more foreign workers to address a severe labor shortage, the Immigration Bureau will next year become an agency under the Justice Ministry, following the approval of a law by the Diet on Saturday.

The agency will provide guidance to companies accepting foreign workers under newly created visa categories and carry out on-the-spot inspections. The Justice Ministry has requested a budget to hire an extra 585 workers to fill posts as immigration officers, security guards and other staff in the next fiscal year.

The proposal for a further upgrade to the file would involve allocating more staff and authority to a possible immigration ministry and making it independent of the Justice Ministry. Another suggestion involves bringing together departments related to foreign residents across all ministries and agencies and forming a single ministry.

A senior Justice Ministry official recently said that a ministry in charge of foreign residents might be possible in the future.

For now, there is concern about potential understaffing at the new immigration agency. The government expects some 340,000 people will obtain a new visa for lower-skilled workers in the first five years. If the country’s labor shortage worsens, however, the government might look to further increase the number of foreign workers it brings in under the new plan.

There are strong calls for greater government involvement to prevent questionable intermediaries from bringing workers here. Against this backdrop, one senior government official said the government could allow the immigration agency to become an independent entity in the future.

Expanding the agency is likely to remain an issue for the government, but it is unclear whether the idea to combine multiple departments related to foreign residents under a single ministry will become a reality, as it could face resistance from ministries and agencies that would stand to lose authority and manpower.