Photo/IllutrationA Filipina cares for a senior citizen at a nursing care facility in Tokyo. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

To alleviate manpower shortages amid an aging population and falling birth rate, the government is working to create a new visa status for foreign workers in specific industrial sectors.

The proposal is a key component of the draft on reform presented to the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy on June 5.

Under the plan, the workers would be allowed to remain in Japan for up to five years if they have a certain level of technical expertise and Japanese language skills.

But such workers would be limited to areas in which employee shortages are particularly severe, such as nursing care, agriculture and construction.

The Justice Ministry is seeking to draft legislation for submittal to an extraordinary Diet session that could be convened in the autumn that would revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law and include the new visa status.

The change could be enacted as early as April 2019.

According to the labor ministry, there were about 1.278 million foreign workers in Japan as of the end of October 2017.

The government hopes the new visa status will attract several tens of thousands of foreign workers a year.

Under the government plan, ministries overseeing specific industrial sectors would be tasked with writing up exams to confirm a certain level of knowledge or skills to determine who would be eligible to receive the new visa status. Those individuals would also be asked to have a Japanese language proficiency allowing them to engage in daily conversations.

Different standards of expertise would be established for the various sectors covered by the new visa status.

However, those foreigners in Japan on a technical trainee visa status and with three years work experience would be exempt from the exam and language skill requirement on the assumption they had already achieved a certain level of knowledge and conversational skills.

In principle, workers on the new visa status would not be allowed to bring their families with them.

However, consideration is also being given to allow such visitors to convert to another status given to those having highly specialized or technical skill levels if they are found to have obtained a higher level of specialization during their stay in Japan. Those who are allowed to move to the highly skilled professional visa status could remain in Japan beyond the initial five years and could also be allowed to bring family members to live with them in Japan.

One issue that would likely have to be addressed under the new visa status is preventing abuse of that status by unscrupulous employers.

Such criticism has been raised at the technical trainee program because some interns in Japan on that status are simply used as a cheap source of labor without gaining any of the technical skills that the program was designed to instill.