Businesses reliant on a foreign blue-collar workforce are struggling to fill openings as the coronavirus pandemic slows immigration procedures to a crawl both in Japan and abroad.

The global crisis has left stranded hundreds of foreign nationals who were set to join the Japanese workforce in labor-hungry industries under a government-sponsored work permit program introduced in April last year, said Shoko Sasaki, commissioner of the Immigration Services Agency, on Thursday.

The crisis has led Japan, China and many other Asian countries to implement travel bans and strengthen border controls, preventing those workers from coming to Japan.