TOKYO -- Japan will open more service sector jobs to foreigners as early as the first half of next year amid a surge in tourism, thanks to the revised strategic special zone law that took effect Friday.
Under the revisions, restrictions are likely to be eased in the tourism, retail and restaurant industries, among others. Foreign interpreters, cooks, sommeliers and clothing designers are expected to benefit. Local governments within the deregulation-friendly special zones will each suggest job categories they wish to open to foreigners, and those proposals will be reviewed by the relevant ministries.
Japan has been welcoming foreign researchers and business people as highly skilled labor. But strict salary, academic qualifications and work experience requirements have kept many skilled foreigners from working in Japan.
The government may also relax its requirements for gaining residency status. Under the current law, foreigners need to meet such conditions as a university degree or 10 years working experience to apply for residency. But Japan may also allow workers qualified in their job fields or those that have won awards at international competitions.
The revised law is intended to allow workers to come to the country and encourage them to stay. Some restaurants have made up for labor shortages by hiring international students, but they often return home after finishing their studies. The Osaka prefectural and city governments are already moving to hire more foreign workers for services for tourists.
Visitors to Japan already topped 20 million visitors this year as of Sept. 15, on track for almost 30 million arrivals for all of 2017.
Restrictions in the agricultural sector will also be loosened as a result of the changes, allowing foreigners with at least one year of experience and basic Japanese skills to work for a total of three years. This provides more flexibility than the current three-year training program, as it allows those just working between spring and summer to stay beyond their fourth year, until they complete their full three years of work.
Japan is also in the process of setting up a "regulatory sandbox" system, which would temporarily freeze restrictions to encourage testing of new technologies such as autonomous driving and drones.