Photo/IllutrationA foreign student working part time serves customers in a restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Restaurant chains facing labor shortages are urging foreign students working part time in their outlets to take the test to acquire a “specified skills” visa that was introduced this month.

Currently, the students can work only for 28 hours a week at maximum as part-timers. If they receive the specified skills visa, they can work full time, though the visa is valid only for five years.

For restaurant chain operators that are facing labor shortages and rising personnel costs, the new visa program is an ideal means to keep foreign students hired on.

On April 25, a total of 192 foreigners took the specified skills visa examination in two venues, one in Tokyo and the other in Osaka.

Of these, 100 people took the test in Tokyo, which was held on the 24th floor of a building in the Otemachi district. The test-takers were from Asian countries.

The test asked the examinees in Japanese about their knowledge of customer service, cooking and hygiene management.

According to some test-takers, the exam also posed questions on honorific words used in conversations with customers, how to deal with complaints and food-related allergies.

Nguyen Thi Nhi, a 22-year-old Vietnamese student who was working part time at an outlet of an “izakaya” pub chain in the Shinbashi district of Tokyo, took the test at the urging of the outlet. She had studied for the test using a textbook worked out by a restaurant industry association.

“The test was not so difficult for me as I had work experience as a part-timer. By passing the examination, I want to work in Japan more and more,” she said.

Many of the examinees were apparently foreign students working in restaurants in Japan whose employers had urged them to take the test.

Before the test was held, Hiday Hidaka Corp., operator of the Hidakaya restaurant chain, said that more than 10 foreign students working in its outlets planned to take it.

Colowide Co., operator of the Amataro izakaya pub chain, also said that five of its foreign students would sit for the examination.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries started to accept examinees for the April 25 test on March 22. Within that day, the total quota of 338 examinees in the two venues was filled.

In response to a request from industry organizations for an additional test, the ministry also decided to hold a test in two venues on April 26. As a result, a total of 1,000 foreigners applied to take the exam on April 25 and 26.

Foreigners who have the specified skills visa status are supposed to have considerable levels of skills and knowledge. In the restaurant industry, however, they are also allowed to work in customer service, waiting on tables and cooking. The differences in their duties between working part time and full time are vague.

The restaurant industry says that foreigners with the specified skills visa status are trained through their daily jobs so that they can become managers of outlets after five years.

However, an executive of a major fast-food chain operator said, “Even among Japanese employees, there are some who cannot become managers of outlets after five years. It is not easy.”

The restaurant industry is expected to accept up to 53,000 foreigners with the specified skills visa over five years. The figure is the second highest following that of the nursing-care industry.

However, many of the foreigners with the specified skills visa status in the restaurant industry could end up doing the same jobs such as waiting on customers and cooking as they did as part-timers.

(This article was written by Akifumi Nagahashi and Osamu Uchiyama.)