Japan is considering allowing skilled blue-collar foreign workers to stay in the country permanently with their families, as it struggles with a serious labor shortage amid a population decline, sources close to the matter said Thursday.
In what would represent a turning point for Japan's immigration policy, which basically only sanctions the entry of highly skilled professionals, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to open the door to blue-collar foreign laborers by introducing a new system next April.
The government is envisioning two new types of resident status for foreign workers, who must have Japanese language proficiency as well as knowledge and experience in one of more than 10 fields including nursing care, agriculture and construction, according to the sources.
Those who qualify for the first type of resident status will be issued a visa valid up to five years but will not be allowed to bring their family members to Japan.
Those who qualify for the second type -- namely, highly skilled workers -- will be offered permanent resident status and allowed to bring their family members to Japan.
To qualify for either, workers will be required to be able to speak conversational Japanese and pass exams conducted by ministries overseeing each industry. Those who hold the first type of residence status will also have a chance to apply for the second type.
Foreigners staying in Japan under the government-sponsored technical training program will also be able to obtain the first status. If successful, they would be able to work in Japan for up to 10 years, the sources added.
Companies wishing to employ them will need to meet some conditions, including paying wages equal to those offered to Japanese workers or more.
The Justice Ministry is planning to set up an affiliated agency that will be solely tasked with accepting foreign workers.
To create the new resident status categories, the government aims to submit bills to revise relevant laws when an extraordinary Diet session is convened later in the month. It will present the outline of the bills at a meeting Friday of concerned Cabinet ministers, the sources said.
The government also plans to provide livelihood support to foreign workers under the new system.
As of October last year, the number of foreign workers in Japan hit a record 1.28 million, doubling from 680,000 in 2012, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The figures include part-time workers with student visas and trainees under the technical training program.
Of them, Chinese accounted for the largest group of 372,263, followed by Vietnamese, Filipinos, Brazilians and Nepalese.