• Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Japan opens door to foreign workers to address labor shortages

Don’t call it “tribalism” if it hurts the tribe

In a significant policy shift, the Japanese government unveiled plans to welcome up to 820,000 foreign workers in the transportation and logistics sectors over the next five years. This ambitious target marks a more than two-fold increase from previous estimates and aims to tackle a critical labor shortage plaguing these vital industries.

Easing the 2024 problem

A key driver of this decision is the looming “2024 problem” – new regulations restricting driver overtime hours. This policy is expected to exacerbate existing driver shortages. To address this, the expanded program will allow skilled foreign workers to fill vacancies in bus, taxi, and truck driving positions. Notably, for roles where passenger interaction is crucial, such as bus and taxi drivers, a higher level of Japanese language proficiency (N3 on the JLPT) will be required.

Broadening the skilled worker program

This expansion marks the first since the program’s inception in 2019. The “Specified Skilled Worker No. 1” visa program will now encompass 16 industries, including the newly added transportation and logistics sectors, as well as operations related to textiles, iron and steel, and printing in manufacturing.

Focus on integration

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi emphasized the importance of seamless integration for these incoming workers. He urged relevant ministries to “make preparations to accept (the foreign workers) without delay and to make efforts to realize an inclusive society.”

Streamlining the path to residency

The expanded program offers a clear pathway for foreign workers. The No. 1 visa requires both professional skills and Japanese language proficiency. However, the No. 2 visa allows for unlimited renewals and potential permanent residency, enabling workers to bring their families to Japan.

Overhauling the trainee system

This move coincides with efforts to reform the foreign trainee program, which has faced criticism for labor rights violations. The revamped program aims to create a smoother transition for trainees to the Skilled Worker program, allowing them to switch workplaces within the same industry under specific conditions while acquiring necessary skills.