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The government’s move to expand the scope of its program for accepting professional and highly skilled foreign workers to cope with Japan’s manpower shortage appears to shed light on contradictions in immigrant labor policy. While maintaining an official position of not opening the door to foreign workers engaging in unskilled labor, the Abe administration will consider broadening the program’s targets to include such sectors as nursing care, farming, construction and retail — which face intensifying manpower shortages as the population rapidly ages and shrinks.

Still, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a recent meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy that his administration has no plans to adopt a policy of relying on immigration to cover the labor shortage. An upper limit will be set on the duration of stay of the workers who are accepted under the expanded scheme, and family members will in principle not be allowed to accompany them, so that they would not be counted as immigrant labor but as temporary guest workers.

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