• Kyodo


Gearing up to accept more foreign workers under a pair of new visas launched earlier this month, Japan held its first qualifying exam Sunday for applicants in the country.

The exam, which took place at several locations across Japan, focused on checking the knowledge and skills required to work in the country’s hotel industry.

The first exam to be conducted overseas, for candidates hoping to work in the nursing care business, was held in Manila on Saturday.

Japan created the new visas on April 1 to bring more foreign workers into the country, which is struggling with an acute labor shortage. The step marked a major policy shift from the nation’s traditionally strict immigration rules.

Over the next five years, the government expects up to 345,150 foreign migrant workers to acquire a newly created resident status called Specified Skilled Worker No. 1 and work in 14 labor-hungry sectors such as accommodation, nursing care, construction and farming. The visa will enable them to stay for up to five years.

About 390 people sat Sunday’s exam, which was held at seven test sites including locations in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The results will be announced on May 25.

The exam involved a paper test concerning knowledge of the service industry and a customer service skill test.

Many of the applicants are believed to be students who have experience of working at hotels in Japan as part-time staff.

Elma Sulistia Ningrum, a 24-year-old Indonesian living in Saitama Prefecture, said she can speak Japanese and English but that the knowledge test was difficult because she was not familiar with the hotel business.

Job seekers will also have to clear a Japanese language proficiency test before applying for the new visa. For the hotel industry, successful candidates will likely be granted visas in the summer at the earliest, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.

The government hopes the anticipated influx of foreign workers will ease manpower shortages at hotels — especially those in rural areas — which could lead to a further increase in tourists.

Exams for the food service industry are scheduled to be held in Tokyo and Osaka later this month.

In the past, Japan limited the issuance of working visas to people with a certain degree of professional knowledge and high-level skills, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers. But it decided to loosen restrictions on the entry of foreign workers from April to tackle serious labor shortages amid the graying of the country’s population and its falling birthrate.

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