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EDITORIAL | Care Needed in 'Specified Skilled Worker' Visa Expansion

Permanent residency should not be automatically granted to the additional Specified Skilled Worker visa holders and their families.



The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau is charged with the responsibility of vetting and recognizing refugees. In Tokyo's Minato Ward (©Sankei Shimbun)

The Japanese government has expanded the sectors covered by the "Specified Skilled Worker (ii)" visa status. Visa holders in this category are eligible to apply for permanent residence. With the change, eligibility grows from visa holders with applicable skills in two fields to 11 fields. 

This revision opens the door to permanent residency for foreign workers in a wide range of fields. It is a serious issue that impacts the very state of the nation. Program administration should be carried out with special care to keep from automatically conferring permanent residency status. 

Before granting permanent residency, there must be a rigorous assessment of an applicant's professional character and skills.

The expansion of Specified Skilled Worker (ii) is discussed at a joint meeting including the legal affairs subcommittee at Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters on May 23. (© Kyodo)

Why is There a Specified Skills Program?

The specified skills system was adopted in April 2019 as a response to Japan's shortage of workers. It came against a backdrop of population decline and the graying of society

Originally the Type (i) formulation authorized qualified individuals to stay in Japan for a period of five years. Now, the new Type (ii) version, which requires that workers possess specified skills, has no upper limit on the number of times the period of stay can be renewed. Moreover, it allows qualified individuals to be accompanied by family members.

Until now, the categories of workers covered by the Specified Skilled Worker (ii) program have been limited to those working in the construction and shipbuilding/ship machinery sectors. 

In response to appeals from the business community, nine additional sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, and lodging, which are already covered by the Specified Skilled Worker (i) program, were added to the list. As of the end of March, about 150,000 foreign workers in Japan were under the Specified Skilled Worker (i) program. In addition, there were another 11 under the Specified Skilled Worker (ii) program.

A plenary session of the House of Councillors, where the bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act was under deliberation. May 1, 2023. (© Kyodo)

Attracting and Keeping Workers

Observers have pointed out that even as competition for talent intensifies worldwide, cheap wages and a weak yen have also caused foreign workers to leave Japan.

Many foreign workers came to Japan under the Specified Skilled Worker (i) program soon after its establishment. From the spring of 2024 onward, these individuals will gradually reach their five-year limit of stay. Moreover, the number of such individuals is quite sizable. There are around 150,000 visa holders in this category. 

Many expect to move into the Specified Skilled Worker (ii) category based on their work experience or examinations. Combined with the expansion of industries covered, some communities will likely see a rapid increase in their foreign population. 

Taking Steps to Smooth Participation in Community Life

We should try to prevent unfortunate situations from developing. For example, preventing frequent friction with locals, divisions within society, and deterioration of public safety


We must also avoid foreigners becoming isolated.

Nor should we forget the bitter examples of European countries that have suffered chaos. They experienced a sudden and large influx of foreigners with different languages and customs.

National and local governments, private companies, and other entities are also working to ensure that foreign nationals can lead stable lives. Additionally, a system should be promptly developed to support education for foreign children. Along with it, Japanese language schooling for spouses and other measures should be taken. These can help to smooth the transition to life in Japan.

Nine new fields were added to the category of Specified Skilled Worker (ii). They were also discussed at a ministerial meeting held at the prime minister's official residence on foreign workers on June 9. (© Kyodo)

A Heavy Responsibility Beyond the Labor

In short, the acceptance of foreign workers involves far more than just accepting labor from abroad. Success requires no less than welcoming newcomers to live together in our community.

As births have declined in Japan, so too has the working-age population (15-64 years old). Furthermore, it is a trend that is expected to continue in the coming years. 

As companies face this future, they should not assume they can rely solely on foreign workers. Moreover, improving the efficiency of their operations must be prioritized, including through digitization.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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