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Japan to offer 1-year path to permanent residency

New rules could shorten the pathway for highly-skilled foreign technicians to gain permanent residency in Japan.

TOKYO -- A narrow class of foreign-born professionals working in Japan will be able to obtain permanent-resident status after just one year as the government seeks to inject fresh blood into the economy and boost productivity.

The government rolled out an economic growth strategy in June that calls for Japan to issue green cards to top-level personnel at time frames on a par with the speediest issuing nations. The ruling bloc will help formulate new ordinances and guidelines that will be put in place by the end of March 2017.

The changes will affect foreign workers designated as highly skilled professionals. Academic history, work experience and annual income must add up to 70 or more under a points-based system used by the immigration bureau. This yardstick has been in place since April 2015, with 2,688 foreigners deemed highly skilled as of the end of June this year. Chinese nationals make up 65% of that group.

Currently, highly skilled foreign professionals must stay in Japan for five years to qualify for permanent residency. That time frame will be shortened to three years across the board. Talent judged to possess top-flight management or technical skills can apply to have the residency requirement shortened to one year. Conditions have yet to be settled, but one proposal sets the bar at 80 points for consideration.

Foreigners who become permanent residents are said to gain a higher standing in Japanese society. It opens doors to wider employment options, makes it possible to qualify for home loans, and generally reduces obstacles to living in Japan as a foreigner. The government is also looking at giving extra points to those who make large investments in Japan and to those who graduated from world-class universities.

A welcome mat for global talent

The U.K. generally requires foreigners to stay for five years before applying for permanent residency, though the timespan shrinks to three years for certain entrepreneurs. Five years is the normal waiting period in South Korea as well, though it falls to three years for college graduates and one year for experts with advanced degrees in cutting-edge technology.

Japan is looking to make itself more attractive to highly trained professionals by shortening the residency requirement. However, the language barrier remains a handicap. Many are calling for the government to provide tax-based support for international schools that educate children of foreign professionals.

The labor reforms being championed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are also geared toward smoothing the ground for foreign talent. Western nations put a much higher premium on work-life balance, meaning potential hires may steer clear of Japan if the country fails to deal with issues such as long working hours or few females in the workforce.

Critics also point to quality-of-life issues such as hospitals and banks unable to handle clients who don't speak Japanese. The government plans to increase the number of foreigner-friendly medical centers to 100 by 2020.


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