STRUGGLING with a diminishing workforce, Japan on Tuesday unveiled a host of measures to attract foreign workers to the country with a visa system that ensures proper working conditions and support for life in the country.
The government is looking to lift restrictions of foreign labour beginning April next year to address labour shortages, despite fierce criticism on the pace at which the administration was moving over fears that the country was not prepared for an influx of migrants from other countries.
According to Kyodo, the workers expected to benefit from the measures were mostly from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Burma, Nepal, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam.
The foreign workers will be allowed to work in 14 sectors, including construction, farming, nursing care and the restaurant business.
The government said it would offer “proper” working conditions for foreign workers in terms of pay, working hours and safety under the new visa system approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet.
Authorities were also tasked with taking action against unscrupulous brokers who collected fees from the foreign workers under the guise of arranging their migration to Japan and finding employment for them there.
In the first five years of the move, Japan will be expecting 345,150 foreign workers to acquire the new residency status, but the policy will also prevent “excessive” numbers of the foreigners from settling into large city areas where the pay was higher than those in the regional cities.
The government also set out a 126-point policy package to help the foreigners with their daily lives and adapting to local customs and norms with an allocation of JPY22.4 billion (US$201 million) starting April.
The policy allocated the number of workers for each of the 14 sectors, such as 60,000 for the nursing sector and another 53,000 for the restaurant business.
Over 100 consultation services across the country will also be set up to provide information and advice on a wide range of issues including the visa system, employment, medical services, child-raising and education.
The centres will be offering services in 11 languages, including English, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian.
The initiative also includes the setting up of multilingual services at hospitals and other existing public facilities such as job-placement offices and emergency advisories on natural disasters from the government’s centralised warning system available in different languages.
Public healthcare insurance programmes will also be offered to foreign workers, which includes partial coverage of medical expenses. However, the government said it would be monitoring the programme to prevent abuse.
The new visa system enables foreign workers aged 18 or older to be able to apply for two new resident status, both of which requires at least a level of expertise in the sectors.
Under the new visa status, Japan has for the first time opened doors to blue-collar workers. Previously, the country only allowed professionals and high-skilled workers such as doctors, lawyers and teachers to live and work in the country.