Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Cabinet ministers on Oct. 12 approved a broad outline of the new “specified skills” residence status, including a sub-category that will allow foreign workers to bring over family members and stay for extended periods.

The new visas are designed to address chronic labor shortages in specific fields in Japan by bringing in more foreign workers with a certain level of skill and Japanese language ability.

The residence status will have two sub-categories, tentatively labeled No. 1 and No. 2.

Those with the No. 1 status can work in Japan for a maximum of five years, and they cannot bring family members with them to Japan.

But foreign workers with the No. 2 status will be allowed to bring family members with them and can remain in Japan for longer than the five-year period.

To obtain the No. 2 status, the foreign workers must demonstrate a more advanced level of skill in the specific field.

The only work-specific residence status now that allows foreigners to work in Japan is the “highly skilled professional” status given to college professors, lawyers and others.

The construction and agriculture industries have been mentioned as possible sectors that will be covered under the new work status.

“Personnel shortages have become a major problem in various parts of Japan,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at the meeting of relevant Cabinet members on Oct. 12. “An urgent task facing us is to establish a framework to allow in a wide range of foreigners who can immediately contribute to the workplace.”

The Justice Ministry is expected to draft legislation based on the outline for submittal to the extraordinary Diet session scheduled to open later in October. The government plans to start the new residence status in April 2019.

The outline as well as the later bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law will not specify which industrial areas will be covered by the new work status.

The Justice Ministry plans to decide the specific areas in a ministerial order to be approved after the law is revised.

Sources said about 14 industrial areas are being considered for inclusion in the new work status.

The ministries and agencies in charge of each industrial area would be in charge of administering the test to determine if a foreigner has the necessary skills and knowledge. The government bodies will also have to confirm that the foreigner has enough Japanese language ability to carry out daily life tasks.

Technical intern trainees with three years of experience in Japan under a training program will be allowed to change their residence status to the specified skills category without taking the test.

Companies who hire foreigners with the new status will be asked to maintain certain standards concerning their work contracts, such as paying them at least the same salary as Japanese workers.

Foreigners who obtain the new work status will be allowed to change companies as long as the new workplace is in the same industrial area.

There is also a provision in the outline that will allow the government to suspend the issuance of the new status for a specific area if it no longer has a personnel shortage.