The Japanese government decided Friday to establish a new, simplified track for granting highly skilled professional visas to foreigners with preferential treatment in an effort to woo foreign talent.

Under the new measure, the government will grant the visa to foreign applicants if they meet certain conditions such as having an annual income of 20 million yen ($148,000) and a master's degree.

A ministerial meeting is held at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Feb. 17, 2023, on establishing a new, simplified track for granting highly skilled professional visas to foreigners with preferential treatment. (Kyodo)

The government currently grants the five-year highly skilled professional visa on a point-based system, with points allocated according to categories including academic and employment backgrounds and annual income. But it has been seen as complex at a time when the global race to acquire skilled workers heats up.

Those obtaining the five-year visa under the simplified requirements will also qualify for a permanent visa after one year of residency, compared with three years for current holders.

The new system "would recognize expanded preferential treatment to those with top-level abilities," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told the ministerial meeting where the measure was decided.

The government aims to start the new method in April after soliciting view from the public.

Under the current system launched in 2012, a total of 34,726 people obtained the five-year visa through June last year, out of whom 16,131 resided in Japan as of that month.

The highly skilled professional visas are granted for three types of activity -- advanced academic research, advanced specialized/technical activities and advanced business and management activities.

While retaining the points-based system, the new measure will enable the government to grant visas for applicants in advanced academic research or in advanced specialized/technical activities if they have a master's or a higher degree and an annual income of 20 million yen or more or an employment record of 10 years or more and an annual income of 20 million yen or more.

For those applying for advanced business and management activities, the five-year visas will be granted if they have an employment record of five years or more and an annual income of 40 million yen.

The government also decided at the ministerial meeting to make it easier for young foreign talent to seek jobs in Japan.

A foreigner who has graduated a university ranked in the top 100 in two world rankings lists designated by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan will be granted a "designated activities" visa that will enable them to stay for up to two years for the purpose of job seeking.

The series of steps to acquire skilled foreign talent comes after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed relevant ministries in September last year to consider reforms to accept highly skilled human resources, including the establishment of a new system that "ranks among the best in the world."

The same month, the prime minister cited the examples of Britain, France and Singapore establishing preferential treatment in accepting foreign professionals and said, "Japan still lacks highly skilled foreign human resources."

"There is a need for Japan to make efforts to acquire talent through a system for accepting such human resources and a high-quality living environment," he said.

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