IMMIGRATION: Japan planning to accept more foreigners in key policy change

In a major change for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is seeking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely from fiscal 2022, a Justice Department official said on Thursday. 

Under a law that came into effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as agriculture, nursing and sanitation were granted visas, but stays were limited to five years. and without family members for workers in all sectors except construction and shipbuilding.

Companies cited the restrictions as reasons they were reluctant to commit to such aid, and the government had tried to ease restrictions in other areas. 

If the revision took effect, many workers in Vietnam and China would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and take their families with them.

Government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno, however, stressed that such a change would not mean automatic permanent residence, which would require a separate application process. 

Immigration has long been a taboo in Japan as many value ethnic homogeneity, but pressure to open its borders has increased due to severe labor shortages given the shrinking and aging population.

“As the population decline becomes a more serious problem and if Japan is to be seen as a good option for foreign workers, it needs to communicate that it has the right structure to accommodate them,” says Toshihiro Menju, Managing Director from the Japan Center for International Exchange . 

The 2019 law was supposed to attract around 345,000 “specified skilled workers” in five years, but according to government data, hires stood at around 3,000 per month before the COVID19 pandemic closed borders.

At the end of 2020, Japan had 1.72 million foreign workers, out of a total population of 125.8 million and only 2.5% of the labor force.

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