National

Government approves measures it says will make life easier for foreign workers under new blue-collar visas

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

As it looks to bring a massive number of foreign blue-collar workers into the country from April, the Cabinet on Tuesday adopted a package of policy measures that it says will provide greater support for those hoping to benefit from the new visa categories.

The 126 measures, backed by a collective budget of ¥22.4 billion for the next fiscal year, are supplementary to the immigration control law that was revised earlier this month.

The measures include the establishment of about 100 consultation centers nationwide offering support in 11 languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Nepalese, Indonesian, Thai and Tagalog.

The central government also pledged to introduce stricter screening processes to crack down on rogue brokers that exploit migrant foreign workers through debt-bondage.

The government is also allocating ¥600 million for a Japanese-language education program for non-Japanese that will include a standardized curriculum and textbooks.

Under the revised immigration law, Japan will provide working visas for blue-collar foreign workers with certain skills and expertise for the first time in the country’s postwar history, as it deals with an acute labor shortage caused by the graying of its population.

Over the first five years, about 345,000 foreign workers will be allowed to work across 14 industrial sectors, including nursing care, janitorial work, manufacturing, the hotel industry, agriculture and fishing, as well as food processing and food services.

Workers are set to include those from China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Also on Tuesday, the government adopted policy guidelines for the new visa categories. Under those guidelines, the government is obliged to take “necessary measures” so that foreign workers will not “excessively concentrate in major urban areas.”

Many ruling politicians fear foreign workers may shun rural areas and flock to Tokyo once they are granted working visas under the new system.

Unlike the existing technical trainee program, often criticized for exploitation of foreign workers, newcomers on the new visas will be directly hired by their employers.

They will also be allowed to change jobs if certain conditions are met.

Many trainees, who are not allowed to change their job or employer once they arrive, are reported to have been forced to work under harsh conditions for little pay.

The Justice Ministry also envisages greater support for job-seeking foreign students through simplified employment procedures at small businesses.

The 126 policy measures include the goal of boosting the student-teacher ratio for Japanese-language education at public schools by fiscal 2026.

Under the new guidelines, language schools will also need to publish the level of competence their students achieve in Japanese.

The government plans to spend ¥3.4 billion on Japanese language education overseas. As part of the program, it will introduce a computer-based testing system, giving foreign nationals a chance to test their abilities.

The government is planning to improve multilingual services at hospitals and other existing public facilities, such as job-placement offices, and increase the number of languages with which it makes emergency advisories about natural disasters through the country’s official warning system.

Foreign workers will be encouraged to enroll in the national health insurance program, which covers a portion of medical expenses, but the government noted that it will also take steps to prevent abuse of the program.

The new visa categories allow foreign workers age 18 or older to apply for two new residency statuses. The first type is for people who will engage in work that requires a certain level of knowledge and experience, while the second type is for work that requires higher skill levels.

Those with the first status, which is valid for up to five years, will not be allowed to bring family members to Japan.

But entrants granted the second status will be allowed to do so and will also be permitted to repeatedly renew their visas.

Foreign workers seeking to apply for the first visa status will be required to have an understanding of basic Japanese and to pass a language test.

By creating the new visa statuses, Japan will formally open its doors to foreign blue-collar workers for the first time. In the past, the country has granted working visas only to people with professional knowledge and high levels of skill.