Photo/Illutration Taxis are waiting at the taxi stand in front of JR Kanazawa Station in Ishikawa Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The transport ministry plans to allow foreign nationals with a “specified skilled worker” visa to work as taxi, bus and truck drivers to help alleviate a growing manpower shortage.

The ministry is considering realizing the plan within this fiscal year.

Multiple factors have contributed to Japan’s shortage of drivers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many taxi drivers retired or left the industry, making it difficult to find taxis in tourist spots and rural areas.

Meanwhile, a rise in online shopping has increased package deliveries, leaving truck companies chronically short staffed.

Japan is also facing the so-called “2024 problem.”

In April of that year, the maximum overtime hours for drivers will be limited to 960 hours per year, reducing the amount of packages that one driver can feasibly deliver.

Without additional drivers to pick up the slack, this may disrupt the transportation of goods throughout Japan.

Industry groups are urging the government to add drivers to the list of industries eligible for the specified skilled worker visa. Currently, this list comprises only 12 specific industries, including shipbuilding and construction.

The ministry is discussing the matter with the Immigration Services Agency of Japan, which oversees the visa system.

However, becoming a taxi or bus driver in Japan requires a special class 2 driver’s license, in addition to an ordinary class 1 license. This can be challenging to obtain for foreign nationals.

It remains unclear whether expanding the specified skilled worker visa will be effective at addressing the driver shortage.