Photo/IllutrationForeigners sit an exam that is one condition to get the new specified skills visa in Osaka’s Chuo Ward on April 14. (Akira Hatano)

The first exam results are in for foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan under a new specified skills visa.

The government announced May 21 that 347 people from 19 countries and regions passed the exam, the first of three steps needed for a visa to work in the restaurant industry.

The new visa status was introduced in April to alleviate manpower shortages due to the rapidly aging population and falling birthrates.

Critics of the program say it is just a ruse for cheap labor.

Exams for the restaurant, hotel and caregiving industries were held the same month.

The restaurant industry exam scores are the first to be released.

According to the organization that held the exam, 460 people took the test. The pass rate was 75.4 percent.

By nationality, 203 Vietnamese passed, followed by 37 Chinese, 30 Nepalese and 15 South Koreans.

Visa applicants must also pass the N-4 level Japanese language proficiency test, which certifies that they can engage in daily Japanese conversation.

They are also required to pass a screening by the Immigration Services Agency, affiliated with the Justice Ministry.