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Economy

Japan to accept more foreign workers from April amid labor crunch

Vietnamese trainees work at a building site in Tokyo on May 22. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan held a ministerial meeting on Tuesday on its plan to accept more foreign workers from April to cope with a serious labor crunch.

The meeting, attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet members, was held to discuss details of the plan that will effectively open doors to blue-collar laborers in addition to currently accepted highly skilled foreigners.

The plan was approved last month by the government, which wants to submit a bill to revise the nation's immigration law to an extraordinary Diet session expected to be convened in the autumn.

Before introducing the new system, the government still needs to specify which industries will be eligible to offer foreign nationals menial jobs and beef up measures against potential abuse of the framework.

Under the plan, a new visa status valid for up to five years in principle will be created but workers will be banned from bringing their family members. New types of foreign laborers are expected to work mainly at small and medium-sized companies, as well as the nursing care and agricultural sectors.

They are required to fulfill certain conditions, including passing skills tests and Japanese language proficiency exams. But people who went through technical training in Japan for more than three years will be exempted from taking the tests.

Abe called for a review of the existing labor system at a meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy in February.

The nursing care, agriculture, construction, hotel and shipbuilding sectors were initially considered as five areas where unskilled foreign workers will be employed, but the scope of the new framework is likely to be expanded to the manufacturing and fisheries industries.

Japan faces severe labor shortages amid a declining population and the aging of its society. In 2017, there were 150 job openings for every 100 workers, the most in over four decades.

The new system may help prevent the scarce labor force from posing a serious challenge to the economy's growth prospects, but critics view it as a way to import cheap labor, pointing out that foreigners from developing countries who receive on-the-job training in Japan under government-sponsored programs are often found to have been made to work under poor conditions.

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