Carefully examine specified skilled worker system as 3 years have passed

Three years have passed since the specified skilled worker program was introduced to increase the acceptance of foreign workers. The government should carefully examine the issues related to the program and consider whether to expand its scope.

The Immigration Services Agency has granted Category II residence status, for which workers with a relatively high skill level are eligible, to a Chinese man who works in Gifu Prefecture. It was the first time Category II status had been granted since the program was launched in April 2019.

The man came to Japan as a technical intern in 2010 and has been engaged in concrete pumping work for a construction company. The agency acknowledged that he has practical experience as a team leader in the field and upgraded his status from Category I, which only allows holders to work in relatively simple jobs.

Category I status limits a person’s period of stay to a total of five years, but Category II can be renewed indefinitely and allows its holders to bring their spouses and children to Japan. “I want to acquire more skills in Japan,” the man said and expressed his intention to bring his wife and son from China.

It is reasonable for arrangements to be made to enable foreign nationals who work diligently in Japan to live stable lives. The construction industry continues to face a serious labor shortage, and such efforts are likely to be an effective way for the industry to secure capable human resources.

However, the number of foreign residents with Category I status stood at just under 50,000 as of the end of last year. This figure is far below the government’s expectations, as a result of restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

If economic activities recover smoothly in the future, more foreign workers will likely come to Japan and seek to upgrade their residence status to Category II.

The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law added a supplementary clause to call for the specified skilled worker program to be reexamined two years after it was put into effect.

The government needs to take this opportunity to examine the challenges involved and comprehensively reconsider various issues, including whether to expand the scope of the program.

The biggest point of contention is whether to expand the industries covered by Category II status. Currently, workers in only two sectors — construction as well as shipbuilding and ship machinery — are eligible. Some people in the business community are calling for the status to include other industries such as manufacturing.

Employment with Category II status could pave the way for foreign workers to live in Japan permanently. Unlike Category I, this status allows holders to count their working years under the program toward the period of time required to obtain permanent residency.

It is essential to discuss how Japan should accept foreign workers, with an eye on the future of the nation. The matter must be considered from multiple viewpoints, thoroughly assessing the situation in each industry.

Many people have complained that the procedures for obtaining residence status and accepting foreign workers under this program are overly complicated. It is hoped that efforts will be made to improve the program.

Partly due to language and cultural differences, there is insufficient support for the education and livelihoods of foreign workers and their families. The central and local governments should urgently enhance their readiness to accept foreign workers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2022)