Japan mulls indefinite stay for blue-collar foreign workers

Tokyo is seeking to ease restrictions on foreign labour amid a rapidly ageing population.

Japan economy
Japan is seeking to attract more foreign workers to ease chronic labour shortages [File: Akio Kon/Bloomberg]

In a significant shift for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is looking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely starting as early as the 2022 fiscal year, an official from the Ministry of Justice said on Thursday.

Under a law that took effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as farming, construction and sanitation have been allowed to stay for up to five years, but without their family members.

The government had been looking to ease those restrictions, which had been cited by companies as among the reasons that they were hesitant to hire such help.

If the revision takes effect, such workers – many from Vietnam and China – would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and bring their families with them, as the other category of more skilled foreigners is allowed to do now.

Mass immigration is a sensitive topic in historically homogenous Japan [File: Kiichiro Sato/AP Photo]

Immigration has long been taboo in Japan as many prize ethnic homogeneity, but pressure has mounted to open up its borders due to an acute labour shortage given its dwindling and ageing population.

“As the shrinking population becomes a more serious problem and if Japan wants to be seen as a good option for overseas workers, it needs to communicate that it has the proper structure in place to welcome them,” Toshihiro Menju, managing director of think-tank Japan Center for International Exchange, told Reuters news agency.

The 2019 law was meant to attract some 345,000 “specified skilled workers” over five years, but the intake has hovered at about 3,000 per month before the COVID-19 pandemic sealed the borders, according to government data.

As of late 2020, Japan hosted 1.72 million foreign workers out of a total population of 125.8 million, about 2.5 percent of its working population.

Source: Reuters

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