A new skilled worker visa introduced by Japan in April to bring in more foreign labor has only been acquired by 219 foreigners as of the end of September, the country's immigration agency said Wednesday, falling far short of the target for the program's first year.
While the numbers represent a more than 10-fold increase from the 20 visa holders recorded by June, they fall short of the maximum 47,550 foreigners expected to acquire the visa by March 2020.
The subdued response has been attributed to the limited test sites outside of Japan, and the narrow range of sectors for tests conducted thus far, both of which the Justice Ministry is working on expanding.
As of the end of October, tests have only been held in six countries outside of Japan, such as the Philippines and Indonesia, for six sectors, including nursing care and food service.
(A qualification exam for foreigners seeking new work visa in Japan is held in the country for the first time on April 14, 2019.)
In order to qualify for the Specified Skilled Worker visa, an applicant must pass a skills exams and Japanese language test or have gone through Japan's technical intern program for at least three years.
According to the Immigration Services Agency, 176 of the 219 foreigners with the new resident status used the latter method to acquire the new visa, which was introduced as part of Japan's efforts to cope with a chronic labor shortage due to its rapidly graying population and declining birthrate.
By country, Vietnam accounted for the most foreigners holding the visa at 93. They were followed by Indonesia at 33, the Philippines at 27, and Thailand at 23.
Out of the 14 sectors eligible for working rights under the visa, food and beverage manufacturing had the most visa holders at 49, followed by industrial machinery production at 43, molding at 42, and farming at 31.
The Specified Skilled Worker No. 1 resident status allows foreigners to work in 14 sectors for up to five years in total.
Proficient workers in the construction and shipbuilding fields can further extend their stay by earning the No. 2 status, which allows holders to bring in family members and has no limit on the number of times they can renew their visas.