Japan Plans Measures to Open Doors to Foreign Workers

Japan is looking at allowing foreign workers in various sectors, including construction, agriculture, nursing, hotel and ship-building industries, which are facing huge labor shortage.


Japan, which is known for its technological advancements, homogeneous society, stringent working hours and now also for an ageing population, is looking at easing its tight immigration policies to allow skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs from other parts of the world to work in the country.

Japan is facing a shortage of workforce, making it realize the need to fill this gap through hiring of foreign workers, starting in April 2019.

The government, which is considering accepting five lakh relatively low-skilled laborers in the country by 2025 for working in over 15 industries, plans to upgrade its Immigration Bureau and hire more immigration officers and guards, ahead of the move, the Japan Times reported recently.

The country’s Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry also plans to assist small and midsize manufacturers in the recruitment of foreign workers, by organizing lectures and training sessions for them to learn the necessary procedures and tasks, the Japan News reported.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is looking at allowing foreign workers, including low-skilled laborers, in various sectors such as construction, agriculture, nursing, hotel and ship-building industries, which are facing huge labor shortage.

Applicants will have to pass certain skill tests and possess some degree of Japanese language proficiency to obtain the new five-year visas.

Japan, which has strict immigration policies, also fails to attract foreign workers due to the language barrier.

“The fault lies with Japanese companies, many of which remain stubbornly monolingual and have built work cultures that don’t accommodate people from different backgrounds,” Naoko Ishihara, a Tokyo-based researcher at Recruit Holdings Co., Japan’s biggest HR company, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg in a separate report.

Many companies are, however, trying to break such barriers and hire talent from abroad, the report said, adding that Mercari Inc., which operates a famous online flea market in Japan, recently hired 33 new graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology.

In order to make his new recruits feel welcomed, Mercari founder Shintaro Yamada flew to Mumbai in April this year to meet the newly-hired employees and their families. The company has also been holding sensitivity training to make the workplace comfortable for foreign workers, the report added.

Japan is also looking at hiring a large number of IT professionals from India to support its rapidly expanding IT infrastructure, Shigeki Maeda, executive vice president at Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), a government body, said in March this year. The Japanese government will give green cards to highly-skilled professionals that would let them get permanent resident status in as little as one year, the Economic Times had reported at the time.

Japan may also soon ease the business managers visa to attract more entrepreneurs in the country, according to a separate report by Nikkei Asian Review.

A business owner is currently required to have a physical office in Japan to start its operations in the country. The norm will be relaxed from early September, and business owners who share office space will also be eligible for the visa, the report said.

The company would, however, have to be less than three years old and registrable under the shared office space. Foreign entrepreneurs will also require support from the Japan External Trade Organization. The business should also have capital of at least 5 million yen ($45,365) or two full-time staffers.

About 2.56 million foreigners were residing in Japan at the end of last year, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. Around 64 percent of Indian residents were living in greater Tokyo, the publication reported, citing the Immigration Bureau of Japan. While most of the foreign workers choose to live around Tokyo due to various job-related opportunities, many Indian IT workers also live in Edogawa due to its proximity to Otemachi, which is called Tokyo’s financial district, the report added.

The number of foreigners in Japan has more than doubled in the last 10 years to 1.3 million, but it still comprises less than 2 percent of the total labor force, compared to 10 percent in Britain, 38 percent in Singapore and 2 percent in South Korea, according to Reuters.

A recent poll by the news agency, conducted by Nikkei Research, found that Japanese firms are in favor of allowing in skilled immigrant workers because they can easily adapt to the working pattern in the country. They, however, don’t support an influx of unskilled workers from other countries, because despite their low wages, they bring along the expense of training for employers.

The poll, conducted among 483 businesses with a capital of at least 1 billion yen ($9 million), found that 57 percent of big and midsized Japanese firms employ foreigner workers and 60 percent want a more open immigration system. But only 38 percent respondents chose the option of allowing unskilled workers into Japan, in order to overcome the shortage of workers, Reuters reported.

“Overall, Japanese firms remain cautious about accepting foreign workers,” Yoshiyuki Suimon, senior economist at Nomura Securities and reviewer of the survey results, was quoted as saying in the report.

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