Photo/IllutrationForeign nationals sit for an exam related to the specified skills visa for the hotel industry. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Companies across Japan are sensing new business opportunities by offering support services for foreign nationals arriving under a specified skills visa system introduced in April.

To date, more than 1,800 companies and individuals have applied to take part in the program.

The government anticipates that as many as 345,000 foreign nationals will come to Japan to work under the new visa over the next five years. Many companies that are expected to hire foreign workers are small entities incapable of independently providing all the support services that new arrivals will require. That would include everything from greeting the individual on arrival, helping the person to find a place to live and opening up a bank account and mobile phone subscription.

Registered support organizations would fill the void and provide those services while being paid a monthly commission by the company that hired the foreign workers. Commission fees will likely be in the several tens of thousands of yen for each worker.

As of Aug. 22, a total of 1,808 companies and individuals around Japan had registered with the Justice Ministry as a support organization. Many of the individuals were administrative scriveners well-versed in filling out the documents in Japanese that foreign workers will have to submit to local government offices to obtain the visa.

According to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, which oversees 10 prefectures in the Kanto and Koshinetsu regions, 738 organizations registered with it, which suggests that many foreign workers will converge on the Kanto region.

Hiroshi Fukuyama, who heads the bureau, said, "About half of the applications were submitted by companies and I believe many entered the market because they feel this is a good opportunity to create new business based on commissions from the companies that hire the foreigners."

One company that registered is TSB Care Academy, based in Chofu, western Tokyo.

In June, it held an explanatory meeting in Tokyo attended by about 40 people, including elderly care service providers thinking about hiring foreign workers.

The parent company of TSB Care Academy is a trading company of electronic parts that has an extensive network of manufacturing plants and sales outlets in China and Southeast Asia. In addition, TSB Care Academy has already set up schools in Vietnam, the Philippines and Laos to train individuals to become care service providers. Some of the graduates might be sent to Japan as early as this year.

Some of the registered organizations have already worked as supervisory agents for foreign technical trainees. Such individuals with at least three years experience of working in Japan can automatically receive the new specified skills visa.

One such agency is World Star International Exchange Business Cooperative, based in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, which has mainly brought in technical trainees from the Philippines to work in the shipbuilding industry. A cooperative official said it took on the new role because many companies wanted to continue using the trainees even after their internship periods end by letting them obtain the specified skills visa.

Pasona Inc., a leading staffing agency, has also entered the market and hopes to provide services to companies thinking about hiring foreign workers under the new visa system.

But the large number of applications received also raises questions about whether they will all be able to provide the same high level of support.

The many reports of dire working conditions facing foreign technical trainees can be attributed to lax oversight on the part of the agents that brought those workers to Japan.

One concern being raised is that the new support organizations may come under pressure from the companies that pay the commissions to look the other way if abuses occur.

The support organizations, in theory, should be the first to spot problems among foreign workers because they will be asked to conduct periodic interviews to ensure the individuals are being treated fairly. But because the support organizations receive commissions from the companies, they may not be willing to report abuses to labor standards inspection offices and other local government entities.

The same problems have emerged among technical trainees with many issues being swept aside because the supervisory agent was being paid by companies for introducing them to the technical trainees.

Shohei Sugita, a lawyer well-versed in the situation facing foreign workers in Japan, said companies hiring those with specified skills visas should select a support organization that they are confident will provide adequate services. He suggested that companies share information about support organizations as one way to ensure a high level of support.

(This article was written by Ken Sakakibara, Suguru Takizawa and Makoto Oda.)