Japan Cabinet OKs bill that would allow more foreign workers

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s Cabinet on Friday approved a draft bill that would allow the entry of more foreign blue-color workers as the country’s fast-aging population faces labor shortages.

The bill is a major revision of Japan’s policy on foreign labor. The country has long resisted accepting foreign workers, except for doctors, teachers and others in highly skilled fields.

The proposed legislation would create two new visa categories for foreigners employed in more than a dozen sectors facing labor shortages, such as nursing, farming, construction and services. The government hopes the bill will be enacted by next April.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the relaxed policy on foreign workers means Japan is opening its doors to immigrants, in an attempt to reassure his nationalist supporters.

Media surveys show public sentiment is divided on the issue. Opponents are concerned about crime and jobs taken away from Japanese, while proponents say foreign workers are indispensable in sectors facing labor shortages.

Under the draft bill, applicants for the first visa category need certain skill levels and Japanese language ability, cannot bring their families, and can stay up to five years. Those in the second category with higher skills can bring their families and eventually apply for permanent residency.

Some of the jobs that would become open for foreign workers have relied in the past on “technical trainees,” or foreign students on internship programs that have been criticized as a loophole allowing the abuse of students for cheap labor.

The government has projected that the number of foreign blue-color workers would be about half a million within a decade.

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