Government mulls accepting skilled foreign workers in agriculture

TOKYO, Feb. 21 – The government has begun considering accepting more foreign workers in industries with increasingly serious labor shortage including the agricultural sector. In order to secure workers, it plans to ease conditions for allowing foreign people with advanced skills to stay in the country to work. However, there are also concerns that the move could open up farm work to foreign workers in general, giving impact to employment of Japanese people.

Addressing the Economic and Fiscal Policy Council meeting on Feb. 20, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said there is an urgent need to review the system of accepting foreign people with professional and technical skills. Specific measures regarding the issue will be included in the basic guideline for economic and fiscal management and reform to be compiled in June.

Relevant ministries including the agriculture ministry will work together to come up with the measures, but Abe stressed this does not mean the government will rely on immigrants to fill labor shortages. He also said foreign workers coming to Japan under the new system will not be allowed to bring family members and there will be a limit to their duration of stay.

The number of foreign nationals working in the agricultural sector totaled 27,139 as of the end of October 2017, but about 90 percent of them are trainees, who are not regarded as workers but as people visiting Japan for training under limited work range.

The government hopes to expand visa categories for foreign people with professional skills who are allowed to work legally in Japan. Currently Japan has 18 visa categories for professional and skilled workers, including professors and specialists in activities which require skills in the field of humanities such as sales and planning. The number of foreign professional workers in the agriculture sector amounted to 828 as of October, including researchers in the field of agriculture and executives of agricultural corporations.

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