Japan's immigration authorities on Monday proposed expanding the scope of a blue-collar skilled workers visa that effectively allows holders to stay in the country indefinitely in a possible major shift in its foreign labor policy.
The move comes in response to calls from the business community seeking to secure human resources amid an ongoing labor shortage and will increase the number of sectors that can be upgraded to the Specified Skilled Worker No. 2 status from two to 11.
If the proposal at a meeting with the Liberal Democratic Party is approved by the ruling coalition, the Cabinet could give the green light as early as June, according to sources close to the matter.
Japan has traditionally taken a cautious stance toward foreign labor resulting in strict immigration policies. But a turning point could be on the horizon as the government is also considering overhauling the country's controversial trainee program.
The current system was introduced in April 2019 to attract foreign workers and address the country's severe labor shortage.
It allows foreigners with certain Japanese language and vocational skills to apply for a resident status called Specified Skilled Worker No. 1, which grants working rights in 12 sectors, including construction, farming and nursing, for up to five years.
Currently, proficient laborers in construction and shipbuilding can extend their stays by earning the No. 2 status, but the government is considering expanding it to nine more sectors.
The No. 2 status allows holders to bring in family members and has no limit on how many times the visa can be renewed.
The government was initially cautious about allowing workers in a wide range of sectors under the No. 1 status to upgrade to a status that effectively leads to permanent residency.
But the government has received calls to do so from firms in various industries that wish to continue the employment of their foreign workers.
Care workers will be exempted from No. 2 status eligibility as a long-term visa path for foreigners with national qualifications already exists.
The number of foreigners staying in Japan under the No. 1 visa totaled around 146,000 as of the end of February, but only 10 held the No. 2 resident status, according to the Immigration Services Agency.