Photo/IllutrationThis passport states the holder has permanent resident status in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Foreign workers who enter Japan under a proposed new residence status from April will face a higher hurdle in obtaining permanent residence status.

The Justice Ministry is now weighing revisions to guidelines used to decide eligibility.

The move came in response to concerns raised by ruling coalition lawmakers that proposed revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law now before the Diet could trigger an influx of immigrants and place a heavy burden on the nation's health care and social welfare systems.

Under the proposed new residence status of "specified skills," foreign nationals deemed to have sufficient skills and adequate Japanese language ability would be granted one of the sub-category visas now referred to as No. 1 status. But they will only be permitted to stay in Japan for five years and cannot bring their families with them.

Foreign nationals who have been in Japan for at least three years as technical intern trainees will be allowed to switch to the new No. 1 specified skills status.

However, revisions to the guidelines for permanent residence now being drawn up would not recognize the years under the No. 1 status as meeting one of the conditions for obtaining permanent residence.

Currently, foreign nationals who have been in Japan for at least 10 years and spent five of them working are considered eligible for permanent resident status.

But, those who enter Japan under the new specified skills No. 1 status, along with technical trainees, will not be considered to have worked in Japan. For that reason, even if a foreign national spent five years in Japan as a technical trainee and then switched to the specified skills status to stay for an additional five years, the individual will not be eligible for permanent resident status.

Sources said that the Justice Ministry decided that revisions to the guidelines were warranted because the new specified skills status, along with the technical intern trainee status, are based on the precondition that the person will one day return to his or her native land.

The second sub-category under the specified skills status will be granted for those deemed to have an advanced level of skills. The holders of the No. 2 sub-category status will be allowed to remain in Japan beyond the five years set for those with the No. 1 status, which will probably make them eligible for permanent resident status.

However, the specified skills visa is intended for business sectors that face manpower shortages. Should the labor shortfall resolve itself, those foreign nationals would likely not be allowed to remain in Japan.

The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law sets three conditions that foreign nationals must meet before being granted permanent resident status. Their "behavior and conduct must be good," he or she "must have sufficient assets or skills to make an independent living" and the decision to grant the special status "will be in accordance with the interests of Japan."

Justice Ministry guidelines lay out the more specific elements that must be met to determine that the three conditions have been met. Time spent living in Japan is considered an element for the third condition.

The proposed legislation before the Diet has been harshly criticized by opposition parties as being inconsiderate of the rights of foreign nationals.

Renho, an Upper House member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan who goes by one name, said the hurdles for obtaining permanent residence status among those who enter under the specified skills status will be very high because "they will only be allowed to work for a specified period, be asked to return home if there is a surplus of workers and face large restrictions in bringing family members with them."

She described the bill as being "exceedingly self-serving" for the government.