Photo/Illutration A Cambodian woman who obtained the specified skills visa and re-entered Japan receives a letter of appointment from JA Aso in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture. (Tazuko Goto)

Only 895 foreign workers have obtained the specified skills visa since its introduction six months ago, a figure representing about 2 percent of the government’s goal and reflecting the poor preparations for the program.

The Immigration Services Agency on Nov. 13 announced the half-year figures for the new visa system that is supposed to alleviate chronic labor shortages in certain industries in Japan.

The numbers as of Nov. 8 show the government will likely fall well short of its goal of having a maximum 47,000 foreign workers with the new visa this fiscal year.

According to the agency, only 219 foreigners were actually working in Japan on the specified skills visa at the end of September.

One cause of the problem is that the government gave itself only a few months between the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in December and the start of the visa system in April.

The consequences from the government’s apparent rush to adopt the visa system are now becoming evident.

Foreign workers have two ways to obtain the specified skills visa.

One route is to pass an exam that measures Japanese language ability and the skills needed in the industry sector where the applicant wants to work.

The other way is for applicants to complete the three-year technical intern training program in Japan and then change their visa status to “specified skills.”

Among those who obtained the specified skills visa, 440 passed the exam and 455 changed their visa status, according to the agency.

However, the examination process inside and outside Japan has proved a mess.

Of the 14 sectors for which the visa can be issued, exams were held for only six, including nursing care, hotels and restaurants.

The content of the exams and test dates have yet to be determined for three sectors, such as industrial machinery manufacturing and the electric and electronic information-related industry.

Those who manage to apply for the visa can expect a long wait for a reply because officials are still trying to familiarize themselves with the assessment process.

In countries that were enthusiastic about sending workers to Japan, the necessary procedures have been delayed as well.

Vietnam was expected to send the largest number of workers to Japan. But the exams have still not been held there.

Vietnam was still the biggest provider of workers under the new visa program, accounting for more than 40 percent of the total number of successful applicants working in Japan.

By sector, the food and beverage industry employed roughly 20 percent of workers with the new visa.