TOKYO — Japan is considering whether to bring in more foreign workers who can take jobs at convenience stores and other businesses that are having trouble finding help in a country famous for its shallow labor pool.
The dominant Liberal Democratic Party will soon make a proposal to add more industries to the “specified skills” work visa program.
Japan last year added a “specified skilled worker” resident status for foreigners working in any of 14 industries that are experiencing labor shortages. Those who qualify can stay up to five years without additional screening, and if they go on to satisfy other criteria permanent residence is also within reach.
The proposal will be reflected in a policy that the government will put the finishing touches on next month. It also includes relief measures in case of dismissal due to the spread of the new coronavirus.
The LDP’s special committee of foreign workers on Thursday met with representatives of convenience store operators and trucking companies at party headquarters.
The government’s goal with the specified skills program is to accept about 350,000 foreign workers in five years. But the program has not been widely embraced, with only around 1,600 workers accepted into it as of last year.
The 14 sectors currently allowed to take advantage of the program include nursing care, agriculture and food services.
Meanwhile, convenience store jobs have been popular among international students, and the number of foreigners becoming store managers is on the rise.
The proposal also wants to add other industries, such as industrial waste.
The party is pushing to simplify and digitalize program applications, as the current complicated form is seen as an obstacle to foreign applicants.
“It’s inevitable that Japan’s working-age population aged 15 to 64 is on the decline,” said Naohiro Yashiro, professor at Showa Women’s University. “The government should work on improving the employment environment, as well as opening its gates to motivated foreign workers.”