Photo/IllutrationAn employee at the Hamamatsu municipal government in Shizuoka Prefecture shows interpretation services on a tablet computer to respond to a foreign resident in June. (Provided by the Hamamatsu city government)

  • Photo/Illustraion

As Japan prepares to accept more foreign workers, the central government plans to welcome them by setting up consultation centers, and offering administrative services in several languages and more Japanese language classes.

The offerings are among 124 proposals listed in the central government’s final draft of comprehensive measures that are intended to make the transition easier for foreign workers to assimilate into Japan, starting from spring.

The draft is expected to receive Cabinet approval on Dec. 25.

As of October 2017, the number of foreign workers stood at about 1.28 million, a record, according to the Justice Ministry and other sources.

In the face of chronic labor shortages in many industries, Japan will open its doors to more foreigners in April. The revision bill to relax immigration controls was passed by the Diet this month.

The government has been mulling measures since September to create a friendlier environment for foreigners so that they can more easily settle into the local population.

As a main proposal, the central government suggested that about 100 one-stop consultation centers be established to assist foreign residents. It envisages those facilities to be set up at prefectural governments, 20 major cities with populations of 500,000 or more, and local governments with a relatively large foreign population.

Staff at those facilities will offer guidance on a wide range of fields such as procedures for residing in Japan and information on health care and education.

The central government also plans to compile a guidebook on living and working in Japan and to distribute copies to foreign workers.

Offering administrative services in multiple languages will also be promoted to ease the difficulties facing foreigners with limited Japanese skills.

Natural disaster alerts will be issued in several languages, while authorities will respond to emergency calls to police and for ambulances via interpreters.

Tests to obtain a driver’s license and assistance for employment searches at public job placement offices will also be offered in multiple languages.

Interpreters will also be placed at core medical institutions in local regions to assist foreign patients.

The central government also encourages foreign workers to use interpretation services on their smartphones and translation apps.

Offering content-rich Japanese lessons more often is also a priority on the central government’s list.

On Dec. 17, education minister Masahiko Shibayama announced that the ministry will request 1.4 billion yen ($12.43 million) in the next fiscal year budget for Japanese language programs, about three times more than the current fiscal year.

Advisers on Japanese language courses will be sent to about 120 local governments that have not provided language programs despite having a higher ratio of the foreign population in their jurisdictions than the national average.

Most instructors teaching Japanese to foreigners at venues operated by municipalities and private organizations are volunteers without proper qualifications.

The central government is seeking to create a new system that will certify the qualifications of a Japanese language teacher.

In addition, it will require Japanese language schools to release the number of students who passed the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, an effort to help enhance the quality of their programs and increase authorities’ oversight.

If schools are found to have a low student attendance rate and to have exceeded a certain number of students staying in Japan illegally, they will not be allowed to accept overseas students.

The number of foreigners studying Japanese in Japan surged to about 240,000 in fiscal 2017, up from about 140,000 in fiscal 2012, according to the Cultural Affairs Agency.

Although there were about 40,000 Japanese language teachers in fiscal 2017, compared with about 34,000 five years earlier, the increase is not apparently enough to keep up with the demand.

(This story was compiled from reports by Naoki Urano, Daisuke Yajima and Yuko Kawasaki.)