Japanese-language tests for new visa to be held in at least seven countries

Kyodo, JIJI

The Foreign Ministry plans to hold Japanese-language tests in at least seven countries for a new type of work visa, in line with the introduction of the new visa category in April, sources have said.

The ministry also aims to conclude bilateral agreements with those countries by March to share information related to criminal investigations, in an effort to shut out rogue labor brokers and protect workers’ human rights, according to the sources.

The Japanese-language tests will be administered in Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia for applicants seeking the easier of the two new visa categories, the sources said. The government is negotiating with one more country on the matter, and plans to expand the number of countries where the tests are conducted in stages, according to the sources.

The moves indicate that workers from those countries will be among the first group to be accepted in Japan under the new system, for the time being, aside from interns transferring from the existing foreign trainee program.

Amid a deepening labor shortage, the Diet enacted a bill last week to revise the immigration control law to accept more workers from abroad by establishing two new visa categories for foreign nationals with certain job skills, including blue-collar workers.

Fourteen industries, including construction, are eligible under the first visa category. Applicants for the new visas will have to pass tests that will assess their professional and language skills.

For now, language tests are unlikely to be held for the second visa category, which requires a higher level of professional skills, because no industrial sector plans to accept workers under the category from April 2019, according to the sources.

As part of efforts to smooth acceptance of the new workers, the sources said the government hopes to establish nearly 100 consultation desks across all 47 prefectures where they can seek advice on the way of life in the country, setting aside ¥1 billion in the budget for fiscal 2019.

The government will also assist with the development of automatic translation machines and create a framework to provide information on houses for rent, since foreign nationals could be prevented from signing leases due to a lack of surety.

Furthermore, the government is planning to advise banks to simplify their processes for foreign nationals to open bank accounts. This move is aimed at maintaining transparency as foreign trainees often receive compensation in cash and can be susceptible to exploitation by their employer.

As for cracking down illegitimate brokers, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Diet deliberations that the government will “use all possible measures.” When foreign trainees come to Japan, they often pay substantial amounts of money to illicit brokers under the pretense of a deposit.

A 27-nation survey by the Pew Research Center showed Monday that among the countries most willing to accept immigrants, Japan occupies the third-highest place.

According to the U.S. research institution’s survey conducted in the spring, 23 percent of respondents in Japan said the country should bring in more immigrants — the third-highest figure after 28 percent in Spain and 24 percent in the United States.

The result reflected the relatively small number of foreign workers in Japan and concerns over serious labor shortages amid the shrinking depopulation, observers said.

Also, only 13 percent of Japanese said they hope to see the number of immigrants reduced — the lowest proportion among all countries surveyed — while 58 percent said they want the status quo maintained, the highest percentage seen in the survey.

The survey also showed that the proportion of respondents in Japan who see the migration of labor overseas as a big problem jumped to 30 percent from 12 percent in 2002.