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Gov't ponders incentives for foreigners on new visas to work in regional areas

TOKYO -- The government will consider introducing some kind of incentives for foreign workers who will be granted new residency statuses under a proposed legal revision to work in regional areas in order to prevent them from concentrating in big cities, the justice minister said on Nov. 15.

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita disclosed the plan during a House of Councillors Judicial Affairs Committee session on Nov. 15, in connection with a government-sponsored bill to revise the immigration control law amid acute labor shortages in Japan.

Mitsuru Sakurai, a legislator from the opposition Democratic Party for the People, raised a question about the possibility that foreign workers to be accepted under the proposed new scheme may concentrate in urban areas and would not contribute to alleviating labor shortages in regional areas.

Masaki Wada, head of the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau of Japan, responded, "Based on the operational status (of the new system), we will improve the environment to accept foreign workers if necessary, and look into introducing incentives that will work out for regional areas."

Justice Minister Yamashita said, "We will examine measures, as the government as a whole, to make it easier to accept foreign workers in areas where labor shortages are becoming increasingly severe."

Of the two types of new residency statuses the government is looking to introduce in April next year, the Type 1 category -- entailing a maximum five-year total residency status -- requires Japanese language ability and success in examinations administered by government ministries and agencies in charge of the sector. In addition, those who have completed the government-run Technical Intern Trainee Program will be able to obtain the Type 1 status without sitting for the exam. However, critics say that such a setting undermines the program's original spirit of allowing foreign trainees to utilize the skills they acquired in Japan upon returning to their home countries.

In response to a question by independent legislator Kazuyuki Yamaguchi, Justice Minister Yamashita said, "It is up to individual foreign trainees whether they choose to switch to the category 1 status." He added, "If they switched to that status, we want them to take their work experience back to their home countries, on top of the technical skills they acquired through the trainee program. It doesn't run counter to the spirit of the program."

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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