[lg policy] Japan to ease language requirements for unskilled foreign workers

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue May 29 10:28:37 EDT 2018

 Japan to ease language requirements for unskilled foreign workers

Policy aims to bolster country's shrinking workforce in five key sectors
Nikkei staff writers May 29, 2018 18:02 JST
Vietnamese trainees work at a building site in Tokyo on May 22. (Photo by
Ken Kobayashi)
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TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to ease restrictions on unskilled
foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan, Nikkei learned Tuesday, as the
country grapples with a serious labor shortage.

The new policy, which will ease Japanese language requirements for overseas
workers, will be incorporated into a work permit system and included in
draft economic policy guidelines to be finalized by June.

The change marks a significant shift in Japan's policy regarding overseas
workers. Under current rules, work permits are issued mainly to skilled

The government hopes to attract more than 500,000 overseas workers by 2025
to five industries especially hard hit by a lack of unskilled labor. Japan
had 1.27 million registered foreign workers last year, according to health
ministry figures.

The new work permits will apply to construction, agriculture, lodging,
nursing care, shipbuilding and related manufacturing. Applicants will be
required to take occupational and Japanese language tests designed for each
type of work by industry associations.

The draft guidelines, called the Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal
Management and Reform, will call for creating a new class of work permits
valid for up to five years. Details are still to be fleshed out.

Under the existing Technical Intern Training Program foreign workers are
permitted to stay up to five years. The new qualification system will
exempt those who have finished the training program from testing.

As for the Japanese language requirements, foreign nationals will have to
be "capable of understanding slow conversations," in principle. People are
typically able to acquire that level of proficiency after around 300 hours
of study, according to Japan Educational Exchanges and Services, which
conducts Japanese language testing.

As for the construction and agricultural sectors, even those who have not
acquired that basic level of Japanese skill will be eligible for work
permits. With respect to technical skills, the government will consider
using tests devised and conducted by industry bodies.

The construction sector is expected to face a shortage of 780,000 to
930,000 people by 2025. The government aims to accept a total 300,000 of
foreign construction workers through the program.

The labor shortage in agriculture is exacerbated by the aging of Japan's
farmers. The program will likely try to bring in 26,000 to 83,000 overseas
farmworkers to make up for an estimated shortfall of 46,000 to 103,000
workers by 2023.

Demand for caregivers for the elderly continues to grow as Japan ages. The
government estimates the workforce in that sector needs to grow by 550,000
by the end of fiscal 2025. It has tried to attract more hands by
introducing measures to raise pay. But it has concluded there are not
enough domestic workers to fill the gap, so it hopes to bring in 10,000
workers from abroad.

Japan's contingent of overseas workers has grown by about 600,000 since
Prime Minster Shinzo Abe became prime minister for the second time in 2012,
mainly through the technical intern program, which aims to provide
on-the-job training to foreign nationals for certain unskilled jobs.

The country's labor shortage is becoming the biggest single challenge for
the economy. The government estimates Japan's working-age population --
those between the ages of 15 and 64 -- will shrink by about 15 million from
current levels by fiscal 2040.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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