The number of people in Japan on the new visa for specified skills was 3,987 as of the end of March, less than a tenth of the maximum set by the government for its first year of use, immigration data released Friday shows.
The lack of takers signifies a lack of government preparation. The new visa was introduced in April last year in an attempt to lure more workers to offset the national labor shortage caused by the rapidly graying population and declining birthrate.
Japan had expected up to 47,550 to enter under the new visa for so-called specified skilled workers in fiscal 2019.
An official at the Immigration Services Agency said the visa’s unpopularity might also be linked to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
While the pace of increase is slowing due to travel restrictions imposed to stem the spread of the virus, the agency disclosed that the number stood at 4,497 as of the end of April.
To qualify for the special visa, an applicant must pass a skills exam and a Japanese test, or spend at least three years in the technical intern training program.
According to the agency, 3,663 of the workers as of the end of March had completed the training program and were allowed to switch their visas to the new type.
By nationality, most of the workers are Vietnamese at 2,316, followed by 456 Indonesians and 331 Chinese.
Of the 14 sectors targeted for the program, food and beverage manufacturing had attracted the most workers at 1,402, followed by agriculture at 686 and machine parts and tooling at 437.
By prefecture, Aichi topped the list at 337 workers, while Chiba was second at 298 and Tokyo was third at 259.
Despite efforts to widen the distribution of such laborers throughout the country, some prefectures remain in the low single digits, such as Akita, which had only one, and Yamagata with three.
The visa for Specified Worker No. 1 resident status allows people to work in any of the 14 designated sectors for up to five years.
Proficient workers in the construction and shipbuilding sectors can extend their stays by earning No. 2 status, which allows them to bring in family members and imposes no limit on renewals.
Around 11,500 people have passed the tests, not counting the construction sector, in Japan and overseas. But many testing sites have been closed because of the pandemic.