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Japan immigration

Shorthanded Japan restarts skills tests for foreign workers

Tokyo eyes edge in recruiting over Singapore and Middle East

Tokyo aims to attract more people for jobs in industries that desperately need labor, such as nursing care. (Photo by Koji Uema)

TOKYO -- Japan is offering work visa qualification exams for foreign nationals once again as the reopened country seeks the upper hand in the competition for labor from elsewhere in Asia.

Tests for agricultural jobs are being administered this month in Cambodia, where the coronavirus outbreak has been surprisingly small. Exams for nursing care jobs were offered there last month after cancellations in April amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Japan looks to restart assessments in other countries such as the Philippines, Nepal and Indonesia, depending on local trends in infection cases. These tests also resume this month in Japan, taken chiefly by international students and trainees.

People who pass the tests become eligible for a new visa category that lets them work in the country for up to five years, when employed in 14 short-staffed industries. The two-part exams assess industry-specific skills and knowledge as well as Japanese proficiency.

Tokyo aims to attract more people for jobs in industries that desperately need labor, such as nursing care and agriculture. Competition with Singapore and Middle Eastern nations for workers was heating up before the pandemic. Japan hopes that resuming visa qualification tests now will give it an advantage in the recruiting fight.

Though entry restrictions prevent people who pass the test abroad from coming to Japan right away, Tokyo is preparing to welcome them as soon as such limits are relaxed.

Japan plans to classify individuals with the new visa as business travelers so they can be admitted to the country in the first phase of reopening the border. The coronavirus quarantine requirement would be waived for people who pass the screening based on certification of negative diagnostic test results and their itineraries.

Businesses looking to hire foreign workers also are encouraged to interview candidates online before they come to Japan. Support will be hammered out for international students who seek to remain in the country under the special work visa.

Japan anticipated up to 47,550 foreigners entering the country with this visa in the first year through March 2020. But the number came in at 4,000 or so, due in part to delayed procedures in workers' home countries.

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