Japan is moving to accept more highly skilled foreign professionals in the face of a serious labor shortage, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made clear the policy will not shift to welcoming unskilled laborers.

Abe enunciated his hopes of luring more foreign professionals with specialized and technical skills during a Feb. 20 meeting of the government’s Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy.

Citing the shortfall in the domestic labor force, Abe called for steps to address labor reforms and "promptly consider" setting up a system to relax requirements for those working with resident status in specialized and technical sectors.

This category encompasses professionals in 18 fields, such as academics in universities, artists and personnel in health care and nursing.

Of the 1.28 million foreign workers in Japan in 2017, 240,000 fell into this category.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa are expected to play a central role in assembling a task force to weigh options to achieve the goal, such as granting resident status to more foreign professionals by revising the immigration control law.

The task force will compile a report on its proposals in time for Abe’s new economic policy, which is due this summer.

The precondition for the team’s discussion is that foreign professionals’ period of stay will be limited and they cannot bring family members to Japan, in principle.

Japan has chalked up an increase of 3.06 million workers over the past five years.

Foreign nationals account for one-fifth of the total. Half of them are students who are allowed to work for a limited number of hours a week, or technical interns from developing countries doing on-the-job training.

Labor experts say discussions on allowing more foreign professionals into Japan may eventually lead to more foreign workers in nursing care, construction, agriculture and other industries where severe manpower shortages prevail.