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TOKYO REPORT: Japan’s new visa system unlikely to reach target

  • January 15, 2020
  • , Jiji Press , 8:00 p.m.
  • English Press

Tokyo, Jan. 15 (Jiji Press)–Japan is likely to fall far short of its target of issuing work permits to up to some 340,000 foreigners over the next five years under a new visa system to alleviate acute labor shortages in 14 sectors.

As of the end of last September, only 219 foreign residents of Japan had obtained the “specified skills” visa introduced in April 2019, according to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. The number of people holding the status abroad stood at 1,024 as of Nov. 15.

Foreigners wishing to obtain the specified skills visa are required to pass a test on the skills needed in the sectors in which they hope to work and a Japanese language proficiency examination. People who have completed the three-year technical intern training program in Japan, however, are exempted from taking the tests and allowed to change their visa status to the new one.

Of the 219 foreign workers, 176, or some 80 pct, received the specified skills visa under the exemption rule. The remaining 43 include 17 who came to Japan as nursing-care and other workers under economic partnership agreements between Japan and other countries. In other words, only 26 foreigners had obtained the visa by passing the exams.

The exams have been held in only six countries other than Japan. Vietnam, which has sent the largest number of workers under the internship program, has held no such exams.

Of the 14 sectors, which include nursing care, restaurant and agriculture, skills exams have been conducted for only six.

The new visa system has made a slow start due partly to a lack of preparation in countries sending workers to Japan. For example, the Philippines has started exams for people wishing to work in the nursing care and agricultural sectors but has yet to establish related departure procedures, so successful applicants cannot leave the country for Japan.

In response, Japan will “work to increase the number of sectors for which exams are held and the countries that conduct them,” Justice Minister Masako Mori said. “We will also help sender countries to improve the necessary procedures.”

Complicated application procedures also limit the number of foreign workers with the new visa status. Mori, therefore, said that her ministry will hold briefing sessions and make the information on its website more understandable.

Southeast Asian nations, though seen as suppliers of workers to Japan and other countries struggling with serious labor shortages, are starting to attract workers from abroad to tackle their own labor crunches.

In these circumstances, “competition for competent workers will intensify,” a Japanese government official said, stressing that Japan should promptly start negotiations with labor sender counties for the preparation of embarkation rules.

Although the immigration agency aims for all 14 sectors to have exams by the end of the current fiscal year to March, the preparations are evidently inadequate.

The government introduced the new visa system despite criticism by opposition parties and experts accusing it of being in effect a policy to allow immigration. The new system is already being tested.

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