Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe and members of his Cabinet attend a meeting on Nov. 2 where a bill to allow in more foreign manual laborers was approved. (Takeshi Iwashita)

The government anticipates an influx of 40,000 new foreign workers from April if new legislation on residence status is approved by the Diet.

Moves by the Abe administration to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law would establish another "specified skills" category that would allow manual foreign workers into the country.

The Cabinet signed off on the bill Nov. 2, and the proposed legislation was submitted to the Lower House the same day.

Critics, fearful that Japan may be setting itself up to have a larger migrant community, have accused the government of resorting to cheap labor to meet a labor shortfall. On both issues, Abe administration officials insist that is not the case.

Central government ministries that oversee industry sectors covered by the program came up with the 40,000 estimate based on personnel shortages they foresee in each sector.

New arrivals will include those entering Japan for the first time to work, as well as technical trainees who switch over to the new residence status.

The government is hoping the legislation will pass in the current extraordinary Diet session, but opposition parties are putting up a fight, citing a lack of specifics in the bill.

For one thing, it does not specifically delineate the business sectors in which foreign nationals will be allowed to work. Rather, once the bill becomes law, the Justice Ministry plans to issue a ministerial order that will clarify the sectors, as well as the likely number of foreign nationals to be allowed entry.

Even the ruling coalition has urged caution as some see the proposal as nothing less than a measure that could lead to wider acceptance of immigrants, with possible wide social implications.

According to labor ministry figures, 1.28 million foreign people worked in Japan as of the end of October 2017.

The government has targeted 14 sectors of business for the new program, including the construction industry and elderly care services.

The onus will be on the respective ministries to come up with estimates of foreign workers who will take advantage of the new legislation.

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita told a Nov. 2 Lower House Budget Committee that he will provide an explanation at a later date about the specific business sectors involved and the expected number of new arrivals so Diet deliberations can proceed smoothly.

The proposed legislation only vaguely states that the targeted business sectors all face a worker shortfall, primarily because of the rapid graying of society.

The ministries overseeing those sectors will require foreign applicants to sit for a test to determine if they have the appropriate skills to work in Japan. Newcomers will be required to have a grasp of the Japanese language so they don't encounter too many problems in their daily lives.

The foreign workers will be allowed to remain in Japan for five years. Foreign technical trainees who have been in Japan for at least three years will be able to switch over to the new specified skills visa.