Facing severe labor shortages in many industries, Japan’s Immigration Office plans to allow all foreign skilled workers eligible for the “Specified Skilled Worker” visa to remain in the country indefinitely, starting in 2022. is according to the Nikkei newspaper.

If implemented, it would represent a major policy change as until now, under the specified skilled worker visa, only workers in the construction and shipbuilding sectors were qualified to extend their visa indefinitely. Employees in other industries could only renew their visa for a maximum of five years and were not allowed to bring family members with them. The change would essentially open a path to permanent residence for skilled workers.

The Specified Skilled Worker visa was implemented in April 2019 in an effort to address Japan’s severe labor shortages by accepting experienced foreign workers with specific expertise and skills in 14 designated industries:

  1. carer
  2. Building cleaning management
  3. Machine parts and tool industries
  4. Industrial Machinery Industry
  5. Electrical, Electronic and Information Industry
  6. Construction industry
  7. Shipbuilding and ship machinery industry
  8. Repair and maintenance of cars
  9. Aviation industry
  10. Accommodation industry
  11. Agriculture
  12. Fisheries and Aquaculture
  13. Manufacture of food and beverages
  14. Food service industry

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (English PDF)

The visa is divided into two categories, “Specified Skills No. 1” and “Specified Skills No. 2”.

The Specified Skills No. 2 visa is the more privileged of the two and is reserved for employees with more advanced skills in their particular industry. It allows employees to extend their visa indefinitely and bring family members to Japan.

Employees eligible for the No. 1 Specified Skills Visa can stay in Japan for up to five years and are not allowed to bring any family members with them. The policy change would essentially lift the five-year cap. These foreign nationals would also meet a requirement to obtain permanent residency if they lived in Japan for ten years.

Japan has a strict immigration policy. In October 2020, there were about 1.72 million foreign workers in the country, of whom about 35,000 were here on the Specified Skilled Worker visa.

When the system for specific skilled workers was launched, the Immigration Services Agency estimated that there would be a shortage of 345,000 workers by FY2023. Currently, about 3,000 people per month are admitted to Japan under this visa status. If the policy change to lift the five-year cap is implemented, this number is estimated to rise to around 300,000 by the second half of the decade.

However, there is a deep-rooted view among conservatives in the Liberal Democrat Party that the extension of long-term employment and permanent residence by foreigners can lead to the de facto acceptance of immigration. The Nikkei reports that for this reason, the plan to change the Specified Skilled Worker visa may not go ahead.

Currently, the Immigration Services Agency and the various ministries that regulate the industries involved take into account the aptitude tests that visa applicants have to pass as a prerequisite for qualification. An official decision would come in March 2022 and be announced by ministerial regulation.

Source: Nikkei newspaper, November 17, 2021 (in Japanese); Ministry of Foreign Affairs explanation of the Specified Skilled Worker visa (PDF in English)

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