The government released Friday a set of ordinances on how to enlist foreign workers under a new visa system that will start from April, including requiring employers to pay wages equivalent to or higher than those of Japanese nationals.
The move came as Japan, under its revised immigration control law, is set to ease its restrictions on the entry of foreign workers to address serious labor shortages resulting from the nation’s aging population and falling birthrate.
“The government will make sure that everything is in place for the launch of the new system,” Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita, who is overseeing it, told a news conference.
The government expects hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals to take jobs under the new visa program over the next five years, but concerns remain over whether they could be exploited as cheap labor.
Under the decrees, employees should make payments to foreign workers via their bank accounts, with the records to serve as evidence that they are properly paid. If workers cannot finance their travel expenses to return to their countries after their contracts expire, employees should shoulder the cost.
Entities that want to hire foreign workers must pass requirements such as not allowing the involvement of brokers who collect large sums from foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan.
Companies must also have no recorded violations of immigration law or other labor-related regulations in the past five years.
For their part, workers must prove they are in good health in order to qualify for a visa.
Companies will need to assign staff to take charge of supporting the daily lives of foreign workers, including helping make arrangements for them to secure accommodation and study the Japanese language.
The Diet passed a bill revising the immigration law in December to bring in more workers from abroad into 14 labor-hungry sectors, including construction, farming and nursing care.
The decision marked a major policy shift for the country, which had previously effectively granted working visas only to highly skilled professionals such as doctors and lawyers.
The new visa system allows foreign workers aged 18 or older to apply for two new residence statuses — Specified Skilled Worker No. 1 for people who will engage in work that requires a certain level of knowledge and experience, and Specified Skilled Worker No. 2 for work that entails higher skill levels.
Holders of the No. 1 type status, which can be renewed for up to a total of five years, will not be allowed to bring family members to Japan. For each application, they will be permitted to stay for four months, six months or one year.
Those granted the No. 2 status will be allowed to live in Japan with their family members and there will be no limit on the number of times they can renew their visa. For each application, they are permitted to stay for six months, one year or three years.
With the new visa system, Japan is planning to accept up to around 345,000 foreign workers over the next five years.
Foreign nationals who have gone through Japan’s existing technical intern program for more than three years will be able to obtain the No. 1 visa status without taking tests, and the government expects many interns to apply for the visa.
Japan introduced the technical intern program in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme has been criticized for providing cover for companies that want to import cheap labor.
Many interns have also been found to have been saddled with debts in coming to Japan and end up being exploited.