Facing severe labor shortages in many industries, the Immigration Services Agency of Japan plans to allow all foreign skilled workers who qualify for the “Specified Skilled Worker” visa to stay indefinitely in the country, starting in 2022. This is according to the Nikkei newspaper.
If implemented, it would represent a major policy change, as up to now, under the Specified Skilled Worker visa, only workers in the construction and ship building industries qualified to indefinitely renew their visas. Workers in other industries were only able to renew their visas up to a maximum of five years and were not able to bring family members with them. The change would essentially open up a path to permanent residency for skilled workers.
The Specified Skilled Worker visa was implemented in April 2019 in a bid to address Japan’s serious labor shortages by accepting experienced foreign workers with specific expertise and skills in 14 designated industries:
- Care worker
- Building cleaning management
- Machine parts & tooling industries
- Industrial machinery industry
- Electric, electronic, and information industries
- Construction industry
- Shipbuilding and ship machinery industry
- Automobile repair and maintenance
- Aviation industry
- Accommodation industry
- Fishery and aquaculture
- Manufacture of food and beverages
- Food service industry
The visa is divided into two categories,“Specified Skills No. 1” and “Specified Skills No. 2”.
The Specified Skills No. 2 visa is the more privileged of the two and is reserved for workers with more advanced skills in their particular industry. It allows workers to renew their visas indefinitely and to bring family members with them to Japan.
Workers qualifying for the Specified Skills No. 1 visa can only stay in Japan for a maximum of five years and cannot bring family members. The policy change would essentially eliminate the five-year cap. These foreign nationals would also meet a requirement for obtaining permanent residency if they live in Japan for ten years.
Japan has strict immigration policies. In October 2020, there were about 1.72 million foreign workers in the country, about 35,000 of whom are here on the Specified Skilled Worker visa.
When the system for specific skilled workers was launched, the Immigration Services Agency estimated that there would be a shortage of 345,000 workers by FY2023. Currently, about 3,000 people a month are admitted to Japan under this visa status. If the policy change is implemented to remove the five-year cap, it is estimated that this number would reach about 300,000 by the latter half of the decade.
However, among the conservatives in the Liberal Democratic Party, there is a deep-seated view that the expansion of long-term employment and permanent residence of foreigners may lead to the de facto acceptance of immigration. The Nikkei reports that for this reason, the plan to modify the Specified Skilled Worker visa may not go through.
Currently, the Immigration Services Agency and the various ministries regulating the affected industries are taking into consideration the proficiency tests that visa applicants are required to pass as a pre-requisite for qualification. An official decision would come in March 2022 and be announced by ministerial ordinance.
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