National

Japan grants first work permits under new blue-collar visa system to address labor crunch

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Japan has granted two working permits under the new visa system for blue-collar workers that came into force earlier this month to address the national labor shortage, the Justice Ministry announced Friday.

The recipients are two Cambodian women in their 20s who came to Japan to be technical interns in the agricultural field. With the new visa status, they will be employed by a firm in Osaka Prefecture with branches in Wakayama Prefecture, where they have been undergoing technical training. They will be dispatched to Gobo in Wakayama to perform tasks including tilling and sowing.

The ministry also granted permission for 18 others to stay in Japan who have come to the country under the lower-skilled trainee program and have applied for the new visas. The officials also said they plan to grant similar visas to another 45 applicants engaged mainly in agriculture.

Under the new system, which came into force on April 1, up to 345,000 blue-collar workers are expected to come to the country over the next five years to work in 14 sectors, including construction and agriculture.

As a rule, applicants must take tests to check their skills. But given that tests for those who are eligible for the new visas have not yet been introduced for most sectors, or the results are not yet known, the officials recognized the 20 applicants’ skills and experience from the prior technical training.

“The foreigners who qualified had previously stayed in Japan as technical trainees and were given exemptions from the tests,” said an official with the Immigration Services Agency, which was upgraded from the Immigration Bureau on April 1 and established as an affiliate of the Justice Ministry.

Those who have been granted the new permits can start working after they acquire new resident statuses through the Immigration Agency.

None have qualified for the second type of visa, which can be renewed indefinitely as long as the holder is employed. People employed under this category will have higher skill levels than holders of the first type and will be permitted to bring their spouses and children to Japan.

The officials also said they had granted licenses to eight organizations outsourced by firms accepting foreign workers under the new visa system to provide support throughout the dispatching process and execute the required procedures. Among them are small and midsize businesses, and public notaries.

Such accreditation is mandatory to complete the screening process under the new visa program. So far, 1,176 firms have applied for it, with 1,168 awaiting recognition.

The officials stressed they had not rejected any applicants and the working permits were granted only to those who successfully completed the application procedures and required paperwork on time.

The officials admitted the time-consuming licensing process, which can take up to two months, is slowing down the procedures.

But the immigration officials hope the policy measures introduced under the new visa system will make life easier for foreign blue-collar workers. The government has introduced a 126-point package of policy measures to provide greater assistance, including Japanese-language education programs. The technical trainee program, which many of the applicants have completed, has long been criticized for violating trainees’ rights and for exploiting migrant workers.

Shoko Sasaki, 57, who on April 1 assumed the role of the first commissioner of the newly established Immigration Services Agency, said in a meeting with reporters Thursday that the new visa processes for blue-collar workers were going forward “slowly and quietly.”

Sasaki said she was looking forward to seeing more companies and organizations getting licensed to provide support for foreign people in the belief that such professional assistance should help prevent potential abuses of the system.

“I hope this will gain a foothold in the society,” Sasaki said of the support organizations.

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