Japan tackles ageing workforce with new visa plans

Prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, has announced the introduction of a new work permit designed to attract 500,000 people to the country by 2025 to address severe labour shortages.

Female construction worker on site
In plans that have been under discussion since the beginning of the year, and set to go before the Diet in the autumn before being introduced in April 2019, the government is aiming to create a new type of work permit for five sectors impacted most by Japan’s rapidly ageing population. Among the sectors covered are construction, agriculture and nursing care, with unskilled laborers, who generally have not been granted work permits, now under the remit of the proposed new laws.

New visa framework for Japan

"We will swiftly create a framework to bring in a wide range of work-ready foreign talent with a certain level of skills and expertise,” said Mr Abe.Reports suggest the proposed scheme is based a twin-track approach for foreign workers to acquire a work permit.The first is the Technical Intern Training Program. Lasting up to five years, this could now see workers able to stay on and apply their newly gained skills in Japan, rather than return to their home country.The second route is to pass an exam on technical and Japanese language skills. Workers will need to be able to hold a basic conversation in Japanese.
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Plans to increase Japan's appeal as a place to live and work

Other countries in the region facing similar demographic challenges are also opening their doors to overseas workers.To increase the country's relative attractiveness, policymakers in Japan are advising municipal governments and sponsoring Japanese language classes. Local communities outside the major cities have some of the greatest need for people with the skills covered under the new scheme.The proposed new framework will also require employers to pay workers employed the same as their Japanese peers. As further safeguards, the government is revising legislation on its tax and social security system.

Boosting workforce growth with homegrown and foreign talent

The initiative is the latest under Mr Abe’s leadership. While the number of foreign workers in Japan remains low as a percentage of the total workforce, the figures have more than doubled since 2012, when Mr Abe was elected for a second term.The London Financial Times reports a fifth of the labour force’s expansion is down to foreign workers. However, it also points out that only 5,494 workers have arrived under a points scheme aimed at scientists and business executives since it began in 2015.For related news and features, visit our dedicated section on JapanRelocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory