In a bid to address its ageing, shrinking workforce in construction and other sectors, Japan’s Cabinet today approved a bill that would overhaul the country’s immigration controls with more lenient visa categories for foreign workers.
The bill would let higher-skilled foreigners work for a potentially indefinite period, and even bring family.
"Creating a new residence status to accept foreign workers is of utmost importance as the nation’s population declines and businesses suffer from lack of personnel," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference, reports the Japan Times.
Currently in Japan around half a million people a year exit the working-age category of 15-64, according to 2017 statistics.
Construction is particularly hard hit. This week a representative of giant contractor Shimizu told the BBC that a third of Japanese construction labourers are over 54 years old and are considering retiring soon, while the number of labourers under 30 makes up just over 10% of the construction workforce.
If passed in parliament the overhaul would come into effect in April, creating two new residence status types for 14 business sectors, including construction.
In the lower-skilled category, permits would be renewable for up to five years but workers would not be able to bring family into the country.
A second category for higher-skilled workers would be renewable indefinitely, and would let workers bring family.
"The premise of the new system is to accept foreign individuals based on the extent that workers are in demand and how scarce labour is in the workplace," Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita told the Lower House Budget Committee on Thursday, reports Japan Times.
Immigration is a sensitive topic in Japan, however, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the same committee the bill did not amount to an open-door immigration policy.
"We are not adopting a policy on people who will settle permanently in the country, or so-called immigrants," Abe said. "The new system we are creating is based on the premise that the workers will work in sectors suffering labor shortages, for a limited time, in certain cases without bringing their families."
The fringe, nationalist Japan First Party protested against the bill, saying foreigners would swell welfare rolls and crime rates, Reuters reports.
Image: Workers on a construction site in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan (Brianhe/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)