Japan opens its door to 'flood' of expats

De-population and an ageing workforce means many industries face staff shortages leading Japan's government to intervene and offer many new visas to skilled foreign workers.

Mount Fuji and Tokyo
The Japanese parliament has approved government legislation that will open up the country to an estimated 350,000 expat workers over the next five years.

New expat visas will be made available

Facing severe labour shortages, particularly in the service sector, because of a declining and ageing population, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed the measure to liberalise visas in the summer and used his parliamentary majority to speed the legislation through.The new law will create two new types of visa. One will be aimed at workers in 14 sectors such as construction and agriculture that will allow foreigners to stay in the country for five years, although they will not be allowed to accompanied by family members.A second type of working visa will allow expats with more advanced skills to remain in the country indefinitely and to bring in family members.The status of Japan's Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau is to be upgraded to an agency to enable it to handle the expected increase in foreign labour, which the government predicts will amount to 47,550 arrivals in the year from next April, and up to 345,150 over the coming five years.

De-population and an ageing workforce risk key sectors

"Japan has come to a point where we had to face the reality that there is serious de-population and serious ageing," said Toshihiro Menju, from the Japan Centre for International Exchange."Shortages of workers are so serious that (additional visas for) immigrants is the only option the government can take."Many industries facing staff shortages, especially in services, already rely heavily on foreign 'trainees' and language students, while there has also been an increase in visas granted to white-collar professionals, often from the West.Consequently, the number of foreign workers in Japan has more than doubled since 2000 to nearly 1.3 million out of a working-age population of 67 million. The fastest growing group of foreign workers has been from Vietnam, many of whom are employed in construction - particularly on projects for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics - and nursing.
Despite widespread acknowledgment on the problem, the new visa scheme has not been without controversy.

Lack of detail in the bill will create loop-holes

"Critics of the legislation said that it failed to specify the types of jobs the foreign workers would engage in and would give the government too much freedom to decide details later through ministerial ordinances without parliamentary debate," the Xinhua news agency reported."There have also been concerns that the lack of detail in the bill could create loopholes through which foreign workers could be exploited, especially amid criticism about the country’s technical intern programme which, set up with the intention to transfer skills to developing countries, has been said to be a cover for importing cheap labour."But Mr Abe's government has argued that the new measures were necessary after previous initiatives to overcome the labour shortage by automation, by encouraging more employment of women, and by trying to use older employees, had failed.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online DirectorySubscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all of the international assignments and global mobility news.

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