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New policy in Japan to introduce more foreign Workers

New Policy

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a new policy on June 5 to introduce more foreign workers to Japan. This is based on the background of severe labour shortages in Japan. The aim is to open doors to relatively low-skilled workers and increase 500,000 more workers in Japan by 2025. Also on the 15th of June, a new policy called “Honebuto no hōshin” was decided at a cabinet meeting with the same aim. This is the first time for Japan to admit working qualifications for simple labour.

What will be changed due to this policy?

In the new policy, five industries were involved:construction, agriculture, lodging/hospitality, nursing care, and shipbuilding. Before this, working visa in Japan was only issued to relatively high-skilled workers. Five visa types can be applied in this situation, engineer / specialist in humanities / international services, intra-company transferee, skilled labour, business manager and highly skilled professional, which all of them required high level of professional knowledge or skills.
For low-skilled workers in the past, there was a Technical Intern Training Program. This program was introduced in 1993, which aimed at transferring skills, technology and knowledge of Japan to developing countries and help with the nurturing of human resources in those areas. Therefore, visas issued by this program has a limitation of 5 years. After 5 years, these workers have no way to extend their visa duration and have to go back to their respective countries. However, this policy received huge criticism as many workers under this program were forced to work overtime illegally and often faced situations when their salary wasn’t paid. The other criticism regarding this program is that it has no effect for alleviating labour shortages in Japan.
Under the new policy, there will be two ways to get the new qualification. One is that workers under Technical Intern Training Program who have finished their program will be able to apply for working visa so they will be able to extend their stay for five more years in Japan. The other way is to receive an industry-specific test and pass the Japanese Language Proficiency test. Industry-specific tests will be established by industry associations in each of the five industries mentioned above by April 2019. As for Japanese Language Proficiency test, “N4” level will be admitted as qualification to get working visa. As for “N4” level in Japanese, it’s a level indicating that one is able to read, understand passages on familiar daily topics written in basic vocabulary and kanji and able to listen, comprehend conversations encountered in daily life. Besides, in construction and agriculture industries, even if their Japanese levels are under “N4” level, they will be able to apply for a visa under the new policy.The government is also considering issuing visas to support female workers, as well as family members of foreign workers with high level of professional knowledge or skills to help foreign workers stay longer in Japan.

What’s the background?

As mentioned above, the new policy is set to alleviate severe labour shortages in Japan. How severe is labour shortage right now? In a research conducted by National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, senior citizens aged over 65 years took 26.6% of population in 2015, which is the top in the world. In other developed areas, the aging rate had an average of 17.6% at that time. This aging rate in Japan is estimated to increase and reach 31.3% in 2030. This has a direct influence on labour shortage. There were around 77 million workers in 2015 and it’s estimated to decrease by 8 million workers by 2030. Right now great labour shortages are seen in some specific industries, such as aviation, IT, tourism and long-time care industry. In IT industry, until 2030, as the average age of IT human resources age, there may be a shortage of around 400~800 thousand human resources in this area.

Worries towards the new policy

The first worry is that because previously in the Technical Intern Training Program, a lot of workers from developing countries were forced to work illegally. This causes people to worry about the new policy because some companies may use it in wrong purposes. The other worry is that as many workers with low Japanese level will be introduced to Japan, it may be difficult for them to live a normal life with just basic Japanese. Considering these worries, supervisions of companies and support for foreigners regarding Japanese learning and medical care should be arranged. To create a friendly environment for foreign workers will be a continuous task for Japanese government.
Source: Nikkei Shinbun, June 16, 2018;Nikkei Shinbun, June 5, 2018