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Japan plans to make regional labor markets accessible to new foreign workers

Kyodo

The government plans to take measures to make regional labor markets accessible to foreign blue-collar workers to avoid them concentrating in large cities such as Tokyo when the country starts admitting them under the new visa system next year, the government’s top spokesman said Thursday.

With the recent enactment of revised immigration laws, the government has compiled a draft basic policy on how to run the new visa system. Under the new visa categories Japan will accept up to 345,150 foreign workers aged 18 or older in 14 fields, including construction, over five years from April next year.

While rural areas face more serious labor shortages, concerns remain as to whether local governments are in a position to provide sufficient language education, welfare services and housing to accept more foreign workers.

“When the revised law was passed, there was a supplementary resolution to prevent workers concentrating in Tokyo, so we would like to properly address that issue among others,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

Though stopping short of giving specifics, the draft policy calls for taking “necessary measures” to meet the needs of foreign workers, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The Cabinet is expected to endorse the policy plan this month, paving the way for the government to finalize measures to meet workers’ needs in their daily lives, the sources said. For instance, the government is considering how to give foreign workers equal access to public services using multilingual consultation.

At the same time, it will also set industry-specific rules, they said. As an example, home-visit care will be excluded from the services that foreign caregivers at nursing homes will be allowed to provide.

The basic policy states that employers must outline their objectives in requesting to hire foreign workers, and give specific reasons.

It also requires employers not to discriminate between Japanese and foreign workers in terms of pay, and calls for them to provide various support measures — such as holding orientation sessions, providing transportation upon arrival and departure, and assisting with language learning.

Japan has decided to hold language exams for the applicants for the new working status categories in eight countries, with arrangements already made in seven of them, according to other sources.

The seven are Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

To address possible human rights issues, such as exploitation by brokers, the Japanese government is also seeking to sign an information-sharing agreement with the governments of the countries from which most of the workers are expected to come, so as to have access to details of relevant police investigations, the sources said.