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Politics

Japan to open gates wider to foreign professionals

Expanded visa program to bring more workers to fields facing labor shortages

Vietnamese women in training to become nursing care providers in Japan.

TOKYO -- Japan is looking to accept more skilled foreign workers, targeting areas experiencing personnel shortages even with technological advances and greater labor participation by women and seniors.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will instruct relevant agencies to consider steps to boost foreign employment at an economic council meeting Tuesday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa will take the lead. The goal is to incorporate the measures into the government's growth strategy due out as early as June.

Revising immigration laws is one possibility. Japan now grants 18 classes of work permits, mostly to such highly skilled professionals as doctors and professors. A task force under the Cabinet Secretariat will determine what other jobs require more people to add to the list.

The 18 existing types of work permits could also be made easier to obtain by relaxing requirements. Which specific categories could be expanded is unclear, but such consistently short-handed fields as nursing care and agriculture are likely candidates.

Roughly 1.28 million foreigners worked in Japan last year, according to the government. They have grown from 1.1% of the nation's workforce to 2% since 2012. But most of the increase came from students working part-time and technical interns, not those who expressly came here to work.

The government is focused on raising the number of skilled foreign workers in Japan. While the U.S., the U.K. and Germany saw their working-age populations increase over the last decade, Japan's has actually decreased. Foreign workers are key to maintaining the country's economic vitality as the population shrinks.

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