Photo/IllutrationA foreign worker at a factory in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Foreign workers with the planned new “specified skills” visa must pay into Japan’s social insurance programs even if there is little or no chance that they will receive benefits, government sources said.

The problem is that many of the foreign workers will not be allowed to stay in Japan long enough to receive payments or services from, for example, the nursing-care insurance program.

The government plans to pass the revised immigration control law through the Diet on Dec. 7 and introduce the new system for foreign workers next year to help industries deal with labor shortages.

In general, foreigners aged 40 or older who stay in Japan for more than three months for purposes other than sightseeing must pay premiums for the nursing-care insurance program in the same way as Japanese.

If the foreigners become 65 years or older and are recognized as needing nursing care, they can receive such services as staying in nursing-care facilities or receiving visits at home from caregivers.

Foreigners between 40 and 64 years old can also receive nursing-care services if they suffer from certain ailments, such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

But the No. 1 category of the “specified skills” residence status limits the workers’ stay in Japan to a maximum of five years. Once out of the country, they cannot receive benefits despite having paid into the system over those five years.

Foreign technical intern trainees who change their status to specified skills could stay in Japan for a total maximum of 10 years.

The government has shelved plans for a No. 2 category of the new visa for highly skilled foreign workers who would be allowed to remain in Japan for longer periods, but it might allow this type of visa for the construction and shipbuilding industries in the future.

There is little possibility of the new foreign workers living in Japan until the age of 65, when they can receive nursing-care services.

But even if their time in Japan is extended, it could be difficult for them to fully benefit from the social welfare programs.

“If foreigners, whose residence statuses require them to work (in Japan), end up needing nursing care and are unable to work, their residence statuses will be canceled, in principle, and they must return to their countries,” an Immigration Bureau official said.

A health ministry official said, “It will be difficult for foreigners to use nursing-care services for long periods, including cases of foreigners suffering certain diseases between the ages of 40 and 64.”

Foreign workers also have to pay premiums for at least 10 years to receive benefits from public pension programs.

That leaves out the No. 1 specified skills workers who must leave Japan after five years.

But if they have paid pension premiums for at least six months and return to their countries before reaching the age at which they can receive benefits, they can claim lump-sum payments.

If their subscription periods are three years or shorter, they can receive about half of the total amount of premiums they paid.

However, if their subscription periods are longer than three years, the size of the lump-sum payments does not increase until the periods reach 10 years.

If the foreign workers do not claim lump-sum payments, they could combine their subscription periods in Japan with those in their own countries, provided Japan has concluded social security agreements with those nations.

In fact, Japan has entered social security agreements with 18 countries, including the Philippines, India and South Korea, which are subject to Japan’s program to accept foreign workers with specified skills.

However, the agreement with South Korea does not have stipulations allowing for a combination of subscription periods.

(This article was written by Sakura Funazaki and Keisuke Sato.)