New “Specified Skills” Visa System Likely to Fall Short of Target

Recent reports indicate that Japan’s new visa system looks likely to fall significantly short of its target

Specified skills visa
Construction workers in Osaka

According to recent figures, it looks as though the Japanese government will fail to hit its target of issuing work permits to 340,000 non-Japanese workers in the next five years. The new Specified Skilled Worker visa system was initiated last April to alleviate extreme labour shortages within 14 sectors.

By the end of September, only 219 foreign residents had obtained the “specified skills” visa, according to the Immigration Services Agency (ISA). The total number of people holding the status abroad was 1,024.

What is required to get the “Specified Skilled Worker” Visa?

Non-Japanese people wishing to get this visa are required to pass two tests. One tests the applicants skill level for the role they hope to fill and the second is a Japanese language proficiency exam. However, anyone who has completed the government’s three-year technical intern training program is exempt from taking the tests and can simply change their visa status.

Of the 219 people with the new visa, 176 got it under the exemption rule. From the remaining 43, 17 obtained it through economic partnership agreements between Japan and other countries, leaving only 26 people who actually obtained the visa by passing the exams.

The exams have so far been held in six countries, other than Japan. None has been held in Vietnam, despite it having sent the largest number of workers to Japan.

Of the 14 sectors in need of workers, which include nursing, hospitality and agriculture, skills exams have only been conducted for 6 of the 14.

Of the 14 sectors in need of workers, which include nursing, hospitality and agriculture, skills exams have only been conducted for 6 of the 14

Factors contributing to the low visa uptake

The program has gotten off to a slow start due to poor preparation. For example, the Philippines has the exams but it doesn’t have departure procedures in place yet so the workers are unable to travel to Japan.

To solve the issues, Justice Minister Masako Mori has said that Japan will “work to increase the number of sectors for which exams are held and the countries that conduct them,” adding that they “will also help sender countries to improve the necessary procedures.”

The complicated application procedure for the specified skills visa has also hindered the number of successful workers being recruited. The ministry plans to ensure the information is more understandable and accessible to non-Japanese applicants.

The Immigration Services Agency is aiming for all 14 sectors to have skills exams by the end of March. Despite the slow start, ISA Director General Shoko Sasaki believes that by March an estimated 10,000 foreigners will take the Japanese language and specified skills exams.

Improved system for foreign workers

The government has taken measures to improve the infrastructure for non-Japanese workers, including providing multilingual services, Japanese language classes and a well-established support network to avoid any human-rights violation.

Pakistan is the latest country to sign a memorandum of cooperation with Japan for skilled Pakistani workers to come work in the country. Some of the other countries Japan has signed memoranda with to date are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Would you consider taking a position in Japan? Do you think the new visa system is a good model going forward? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:

The Japanese government has a lot of improvements to make if it is to meet its target.

What do you think?


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