Japan to Extend Visas for Foreign Domestic Workers

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Foreign domestic work trainees are seen at a school in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, in April 2017.

The government plans to extend the maximum stay for foreign residents who provide domestic work assistance in National Strategic Special Zones to help offset an expected shortage of such workers caused by pandemic-related entry restrictions, according to sources.

By extending foreign housekeeping workers’ visas beyond five years, the government hopes to ensure a stable labor force and offer greater opportunities for women to be more dynamically engaged in the economy.

Related guidelines are set to be revised as early as autumn. The government is mulling extending the period of stay by about two years, the sources said.

The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law does not, in principle, allow foreign nationals to enter Japan for the purpose of providing housekeeping services.

The acceptance of foreign domestic workers in National Strategic Special Zones began in March 2017 with the aim of encouraging Japanese women to become more active in the nation’s workforce.

The initiative was part of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s key policy to create a “society in which all citizens are dynamically engaged.”

The program already operates in Tokyo and the prefectures of Osaka, Kanagawa, Hyogo and Aichi, as well as Chiba City. With other local governments also expressing interest, the central government is considering expanding it to other areas.

Companies that provide housekeeping services can hire foreign workers under the supervision of local governments and related administrative agencies. Workers carry out general household chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping, in addition to looking after children on a daily basis.

As of the end of February, 21 companies, including temporary staffing agencies and cleaning service businesses, were participating in the program.

Currently, foreign residents who meet certain conditions — including being 18 or older, having at least one year of work experience in this field and possessing basic necessary Japanese-language skills — are allowed to stay in Japan for up to five years on a “designated activities” visa. Japan accepts domestic workers from the Philippines, which operates a national certification for household work.

Following the launch of the initiative in the special zones, the number of households employing foreign service workers jumped from 599 in fiscal 2017 to 5,518 in fiscal 2020. The figure remained at the 5,000 level in fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2022.

Conversely, foreign domestic worker numbers plunged from 1,048 at the end of fiscal 2019 to 456 near the end of fiscal 2022 due to the pandemic. More than 200 such foreign residents’ visas are scheduled to expire this year and next, raising concerns about a shortage of key personnel.

Cases have already been recorded in which housekeeping services could not be provided due to a lack of foreign workers.