Japan Aims to Open Door Wider to Blue Collar Workers


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet approved draft legislation on November 2 to open the door to more overseas blue-collar workers in sectors grappling with labor shortages, a controversial policy shift in immigration-shy Japan as immigration debate is heating up. Immigration has long been taboo as many Japanese prize ethnic homogeneity, but the reality of an aging, shrinking population is challenging such views.

Despite misgivings in Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), parliament is likely to adopt the revisions in the face of intense pressure from businesses battling the tightest labor market in decades, although opposition parties could delay.

The revised law would create two new visa categories for foreigners in sectors with labor shortages. While not spelt out, they are expected to be more than a dozen, from farming and construction to hotels and nursing care.

Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita on November 1 ruled out a numerical cap, but media said 500,000 blue-collar workers could be allowed in over time, up 40% from 1.28 million foreign workers now forming about 2% of the workforce.

Minimum or Low-skilled workers in the first visa category must have a Japanese language ability. They would not be allowed to bring family members for a stay of up to five years. But those with higher skills, in the second category, could bring family and eventually get residency.

Japan has grown more accepting of foreign labor but the focus has been on professionals and the highly skilled. For blue-collar workers, employers mostly rely on a "technical trainees" system and foreign students working...

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