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Gov't outlines plan to accept more foreign workers in struggling industries

The Ministry of Justice is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Justice on Oct 12 announced the gist of a draft bill to expand the acceptance of foreign workers for a little over 10 industries, including construction and nursing care, suffering from chronic labor shortages.

According to the ministry, the bill is a revision to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and will be submitted to the extraordinary session of the Diet to be convened on Oct. 24. The gist was presented to a meeting of relevant Cabinet ministers on the morning of Oct. 12.

With the revision, the ministry intends to create two types of new residency status. The type 1 status is for laborers with certain knowledge and experience with some command of the Japanese language, and will allow them to stay in Japan for up to five years without accompanying family members. The type 2 status is for people to work in jobs requiring special expertise, and its holder will be entitled to a long-term stay with family members. Industries in which labor shortages are resolved following the acceptance of foreign workers will have to stop receiving such employees.

The government wants to introduce the new residency statuses as early as next April to address the acute labor shortages. The new measure will mark a major shift in Japan's immigration policy as the country has long limited its labor market to foreigners with specialized expertise such as professors or lawyers, at least officially.

According to the ministry, screening by the government or other entities will be administered to determine the skill level of applicants for type 1. As for their command of the Japanese language, the generally required level will be "capable of daily conversation with no major problems." The required standard for each area will be determined by specifically designed tests. Foreigners who completed the technical intern trainee courses, which can be for up to five years, will be exempt from the skill test for the type 1 status. Changing status from type 1 to type 2 is possible if applicants pass examinations organized by ministries and agencies in charge of their industries.

Type 2 status holders are treated similarly to holders of existing residency statuses for people with special expertise, and they can renew their status and stay in Japan for a long period of time.

The ministry also intends to introduce regulations on companies accepting foreign workers, and on support programs for such workers. Employers will be required to satisfy certain standards for employment contracts, such as salary levels equal to or higher than those for Japanese co-workers. Companies will be required to draw up programs for type 1 status holders to support their daily lives or time at the workplace.

Regarding industries where more workers will be accepted, the ministry defined them as "fields where foreigners are needed even after improvement in productivity or efforts to recruit domestic workers have been made." More than 10 industries such as construction, nursing care and agriculture are under consideration and specific areas will later be determined.

The Justice Ministry intends to upgrade its Immigration Bureau of Japan to a full agency with greater authorities. A bill to establish the new body will be submitted to the extraordinary Diet session along with the draft revisions to the immigration control act.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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