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Japan could accept up to 340,000 foreign workers over 5 years under new visa law

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita listen to a question about a bill aimed at expanding the acceptance of foreign workers during a House of Representatives plenary session on Nov. 13, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- The government estimates that Japan could accept up to 340,000 additional foreign workers over a five-year period from April 2019 under planned revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, those linked to the government said.

The revisions, now under deliberation at the Diet, would establish two new residency statuses for foreigners with certain knowledge and experience, and for those in jobs requiring special expertise. The move is aimed at expanding the acceptance of foreign laborers to make up for a serious labor shortage in Japan. The government aims to launch the new immigration system in April 2019 -- the beginning of the fiscal year.

Companies being considered for a fresh infusion of foreign workers span 14 industries, including nursing care and construction.

During deliberations in a House of Representatives plenary session, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated, "In the coming days, we will state the number of workers by industry for the initial year, and the outlook for five years later."

According to those familiar with the policy, over a five-year period from fiscal 2019, Japan is estimated to have a shortage of over 1.3 million workers and would accept some 260,000 to 340,000 foreign workers under the revised law. The estimates for the first fiscal year predict a shortage of over 600,000 workers and the acceptance of 33,000 to 47,000 foreign workers. These numbers are based on calculations done by relevant government offices.

Earlier, when ministries and agencies made budget requests for fiscal 2019, the government estimated that the country would accept about 40,000 foreign laborers in the initial fiscal year and approximately 250,000 people over a five-year period from April 2019.

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita told a news conference after a regular Cabinet meeting on Nov. 13 that the government will show numbers "at a time helpful to Diet deliberations on the bill."

The two residency statuses include "category 1" for laborers with certain knowledge and experience, which will allow them to stay in Japan for up to five years without accompanying family members. "Category 2" is for people to work in jobs requiring special expertise, and its holder will be entitled to a long-term stay together with family members.

Foreigners could obtain these statuses on condition that they have some command of the Japanese language necessary for their daily lives and pass examinations by ministries and agencies that supervise business sectors in which they intend to work.

Technical trainees, who are originally in Japan to learn technical know-how and utilize it back home, can obtain the category 1 permit without an examination if they complete the three-year course. Those who have the category 1 residency status can switch to the category 2 if they pass an examination.

Industries in which labor shortages are resolved following the acceptance of foreign workers will have to stop receiving such employees.

At a House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee on Nov. 13, Justice Minister Yamashita emphasized that the government does not regard foreign workers as "cheap labor."

Regarding the category 2 residency status, the justice minister reiterated that the government has no intention to set an upper limit on the duration of stay on the premise that such workers will perform work based on their residency statuses.

(Japanese original by Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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