Efforts Needed to Attract and Retain Foreign Human Resources

Competition for human resources is intensifying globally. It is reasonable to aim to increase the number of foreigners who choose to work in Japan.

The government has reviewed the “specified skilled worker” (SSW) residence status system and has decided to expand the range of industries in which foreign nationals with proficient skills can work.

There are two types of SSW residence status. Category I offers a maximum period of stay of five years and can be obtained by those with certain skills. Category II offers unlimited renewals but requires proficient skills and includes a difficult examination.

The government revised the industries in which a person can work under Category II status. It was previously limited to the construction sector and the shipbuilding and ship machinery sector, but nine more sectors have been added, including agriculture and food service.

The latest development will likely expand significantly the number of workplaces open to foreigners with proficient skills. Foreigners with Category I status who work in the 11 sectors can obtain Category II status and will effectively have no restrictions on their period of stay if they pass the Category II examination. For Category I workers in “nursing care,” there is a separate status of residence so nursing is not included in Category II.

This year marks the fifth year since the SSW program was launched in 2019. As of the end of March this year, there were only 11 foreign workers with Category II status, but about 150,000 with Category I status. Under the current system, the first cohort of foreigners working under the Category I status will have to return to their home countries from next spring.

Many foreigners with Category I status have mastered Japanese and have adapted well to life and work here. It is understandable that the Category I and Category II statuses have now been linked.

After acquiring Category II status, foreign workers can invite their spouses and other family members in their home countries to Japan. It is likely that the number of foreigners permanently residing in Japan will increase in the future.

Separate from the review of the SSW program, the government has decided to grant permanent resident status to fourth-generation Japanese descendants from such countries as Brazil and Peru on the condition that they have mastered Japanese, among other things. This policy is also intended to improve the working environment for foreigners.

It is important to increase the number of foreign workers through various measures to maintain the vitality of Japan’s economy and society amid the declining birth rate and aging population.

However, some people might be concerned about the risk of public safety worsening and problems increasing. The responsibility of administrative bodies and the companies that accept foreign workers will increase.

In areas where many foreigners live, it is necessary to increase the number of multilingual consultation services. Companies should strengthen efforts to provide training on Japanese laws and social systems.

In the future, there may be calls for foreign residents to participate in politics in Japan.

However, the Constitution explicitly states that suffrage in Japan is the inalienable right of Japanese citizens. This right cannot be easily granted to foreigners. Careful handling of the issue, including matters regarding local referendums, is essential.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 20, 2023)