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Chinese supervisor becomes first foreign worker allowed to stay in Japan

Struggling to retain a skilled construction workforce, Japan has loosened entry rules. Photograph shows construction workers in Himeji (Kojach/CC BY 2.0)
A 35-year-old site supervisor from China has become the first person ever to be granted open-ended leave to stay in Japan and to bring family there under new rules opening Japan’s skills-starved construction industry to foreign workers.

Mr. Weng Fei, who works for a construction company in Gifu Prefecture, received his “Specified Skilled Worker No. 2” status last week under rules introduced in 2018, and passed the following year, to create more lenient visa categories for foreign workers.

Like other high-income countries, Japan is struggling to retain a skilled construction workforce because the rate of people entering the industry does not match the rate of people leaving it or retiring.

The policy, which Japan’s parliament made law in April 2019, was notable given Japan’s strict approach to immigration.

The system allows foreigners with some Japanese language and vocational skills to apply for a grade known as “Specified Skilled Worker No. 1”, which grants working rights in 14 sectors including construction for up to five years. This grade does not entitle foreign workers to bring family.

Proficient workers in two sectors, construction and shipbuilding, can then upgrade to Specified Skilled Worker No. 2 status.

Weng began working for his current employer as a technical trainee in 2010. He took a national skills test in 2020 to achieve Worker No. 1 status. Based on his work as a site supervisor, he was able to upgrade to the No. 2 status, reports the Kyodo news agency.

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