The number of foreign nationals allowed to live indefinitely in Japan is certain to balloon under a government proposal to expand the range of industries for those with specific work skills.
Plans presented April 24 to the Special Committee on Foreign Workers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party focus on those with a “specified skills” visa.
There are two classes within that category. The Class II visa allows holders to not only remain in Japan indefinitely, but also to bring family members with them.
The only sectors currently covered by the Class II visa are the construction and shipbuilding industries. As a result, only 10 foreign nationals with special skills had jobs in those areas as of the end of February.
The Class I visa within the specified skills category covers 12 industrial sectors. The new proposal would allow for Class II visas in 11 of those sectors to also include farming, fishing and the hotel industry.
Business circles have clamored for an expansion of the Class II category to deal with a chronic labor crunch. But conservative elements within the LDP have long raised concerns about the Class II program, which they view as a ploy to allow in more immigrants to cover the labor shortfall.
The Class I specified skills visa, which was introduced in April 2019, has a five-year limit. As a result, the first influx of foreign workers on that visa now face a spring 2024 deadline to leave Japan.
Around 146,000 foreign workers were armed with the Class I specified skills visa as of the end of February.
Given the small number of foreign workers with the Class II visa, companies and ministries overseeing the industries had asked that the category be expanded to cover their sectors, citing the manpower shortage and their hopes that more skilled foreign workers will remain in Japan rather than return to their native lands.
The weaker yen has made Japan less attractive as a work destination and many companies feel that if nothing is done now, they will be unable to compete with other nations trying to lure non-native workers.
Nursing care is the only sector that will not have a Class II category visa because the current system already allows those with the appropriate visa to extend their stay.
The government is hoping to gain Cabinet approval for a revision of the ministerial order regarding the Class II visa by June ahead of the scheduled autumn screening of affected foreign nationals so those workers can switch to the Class II category.
But diehards in the LDP are expected to raise objections. This is because concerns were raised before the specified skills visa program began in April 2019 that the Class II would trigger an influx of foreign immigrants. LDP lawmakers had called for strict standards when approving the Class II visa.
While no legal revision is required to expand the Class II visa program, the government is hoping to gain LDP approval of the new measure by May so the Cabinet can sign off on the issue the following month.