Japan Seeking 345,000 Foreign Workers to Ease Labor Shortage

Posted on Posted inBE2C2

Construction workers are particularly in demand as Japan rushes to finish building venues and other infrastructure for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

NEW YORK (Dec 8, 2018) — Japan’s parliament passed a bill early Saturday morning that will create a new foreign worker program to help address labor shortages, opening the country’s doors to blue-collar labors in a mjor policy shift.

The new visa program aims to bring in 345,000 blue-color laborers over the next five years.

It’s seen as an unavoidable step as the country’s population of about 126 million rapidly ages and shrinks. Many short-handed industries, especially in the services sector, already rely heavily on foreign “trainees” and language students. Japan also selectively grants visas to white-collar professionals, often from the West.

But opposition lawmakers protested against the Upper House committee chairman’s move to vote on the foreign worker bill early Saturday morning.

Opposition groups demand more thorough debate to address concerns about the drastic change of policy–Japan has long resisted accepting outsiders.

Bringing in foreign laborers is a last resort after Prime Minister Abe’s deeply conservative government tried to meet labor shortages by encouraging more employment of women and older workers and using more robots and other automation.

“Japan has come to a point where we had to face the reality that there is serious depopulation and serious aging,” said Toshihiro Menju, an expert on foreign labor and population issues at the Japan Center for International Exchange.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday that “Shortages of workers are so serious … that (allowing) immigrants is the only option the government can take.”

“Creating new visa statuses to accommodate foreign human resources is our urgent task as we face serious labor shortages, especially at small and medium-size companies,”

Abe’s latest plan calls for relaxing Japan’s visa requirements in sectors facing severe labor shortages such as construction, nursing, farming, transport and tourism — new categories of jobs to be added to the current list of highly skilled professionals.

Construction workers are particularly in demand as Japan rushes to finish building venues and other infrastructure for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The number of foreign workers in Japan has more than doubled since 2000 to nearly 1.3 million last year, out of a working-age population of 67 million. Workers from developing Asian countries used to stay mostly behind the scenes, but not anymore. Almost all convenience stores are partly staffed by Asian workers and so are many restaurant chains.

Under the legislation, two categories of workers will be accepted beginning in April: less-skilled workers and former interns with basic Japanese competency are allowed to stay in the country for only up to five years as visitors and cannot bring in family members. That is meant to encourage them to leave when their visas expire, preventing them from settling in Japan.

The second category, those with higher skills, Japanese language and cultural understanding, would be allowed to bring their families and apply for citizenship after living in Japan for 10 years if they commit no crimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *