• Chunichi Shimbun

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Amid a continuing labor shortage in the food service industry, major restaurant chains in the Chubu region are hiring an increasing number of foreign workers who have just graduated from universities in Japan.

The firms are hiring them not as short-term, part-time workers but as permanent employees so that they will stay for a long time and make contributions such as attending to foreign customers and doing business abroad.

This spring, Sagami Holdings Corp., a Nagoya-based noodle restaurant chain operator, hired five people from China, Vietnam and Nepal who graduated from universities in Japan. It is the first time the firm hired non-Japanese new graduates as regular employees.

They all obtained a working visa and were assigned to work at the firm’s restaurants. “With the number of foreign tourists visiting our restaurants on the rise, they are working actively as floor staff,” said a Sagami Holdings spokesperson.

Since Sagami Holdings operates restaurants abroad, mainly in Southeast Asia, the firm hopes to assign them to handle business overseas in the future.

Expectations are high in the restaurant industry that a revised immigration control law, which took effect in April, will help resolve the manpower shortage. The industry is one of the 14 industries allowed to accept such people under the law.

The law allows visas for foreign nationals under a newly created status called Specified Skilled Worker No. 1, which grants a stay of up to five years, and some restaurant operators are encouraging foreign students who work for them as part-timers to take an exam to qualify for the visa.

But Sagami Holdings is looking for foreign workers who can be employed for a longer period.

“We are focusing on hiring (foreign people) as permanent staff to secure personnel who can work for us for a long time, rather than hiring people who can stay only for five years,” a Sagami Holdings employee said.

Companies have recently been struggling to secure regular workers. According to a survey conducted by credit research agency Teikoku Databank Ltd. in July on firms nationwide, 48.5 percent of the 10,091 firms that responded said they are short of permanent staff. As for restaurants and eateries, the figure was 60 percent, up 1.5 percentage points from the same month last year.

Meanwhile, Justice Ministry statistics show that in 2017, a record 22,419 foreign students obtained a residence status allowing them to work for companies in Japan after graduation, up 15.4 percent from the previous year.

Bronco Billy Co., a Nagoya-based firm that operates a steak restaurant chain, has been hiring foreign workers who have just graduated from Japanese universities as full-time staff since 2007.

Xia Gang, 38, manager of the chain’s restaurant in Nagoya’s Moriyama Ward, is one of those employees and joined the firm eight years ago after graduating from a university in Aichi Prefecture.

Xia, from China’s Jiangsu province, oversees the kitchen and customer service, as well as placing orders for food items and training part-timers. “I try to always respond cheerfully,” he said.

As of May, 54 of some 600 employees of Bronco Billy, or 9 percent, were foreign nationals, including Chinese and Nepalese.

“The labor shortage has been an issue and we have been hiring people who try hard regardless of nationality,” says Mitsuhiro Furuta, the firm’s director of business planning. “We hope (foreign staff) will play an active part when we start doing business abroad in the future.”

Kisoji Co., another Nagoya-based restaurant chain, has also been hiring foreign students who newly graduated from Japanese universities, and eight such people from places including China, South Korea and Taiwan currently work at the firm.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Aug. 23.

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