Foreign people with new specified skills visa less than tenth of government target in first year

TOKYO, May 30 – The number of foreign nationals with a new visa for specified skills totaled 3,987 as of the end of March, a year after the system was launched, according to data released by the Immigration Services Agency on May 29. This is less than 10 percent of the government’s initial goal set for the first year.

Among them, those working for the agriculture sector reached 686, also less than a tenth of the government target for the sector.

The low numbers are attributable to the complicated procedures for obtaining the visa and the slow approval process, as well as travel restrictions imposed amid the spread of COVID-19 infections.

It is necessary for the government to take measures to boost the number of visa takers, including simplifying the approval procedures.

By nationality, Vietnamese topped the list with 2,316, followed by 456 Indonesians, 331 Chinese, 235 Filipinos and 216 Burmese.

The system, introduced in April last year under the revised immigration control law, was designed to admit foreign workers with a certain level of skills and Japanese language proficiency to make up for the serious labor shortage in 14 sectors including agriculture.

Non-Japanese with the visa for Specified Worker No. 1 resident status are allowed to work for five years in Japan. Unlike technical interns, they can change jobs within the same sector. They are not allowed to bring their family members with them in principle.

People who have completed the government’s three-year technical intern training program can switch to the new visa, and such people totaled 3,663, occupying more than 90 percent of the total. Among others, 281 were those who passed a test on the skills needed in their desired work sector as well as a Japanese test to qualify for the new visa.

In terms of sectors, 1,402, or 35 percent, the largest percentage, worked for the food and beverage manufacturing sector, followed by 686, or 17 percent, working for the agriculture sector.

The government had expected to accept 7,300 workers in the agriculture sector under the new visa in the first year, the largest number among the 14 sectors. But the number ended up with less than 10 percent. Eighty percent, or 541, of them worked in crop farming, while 145 worked in livestock farming.

In the agriculture sector, people with the new visa worked in 36 prefectures, with 70 accepted in Ibaraki, 67 in Hokkaido and 66 in Kumamoto. Forty-five worked in Chiba, another 45 in Nagasaki, 39 in Okinawa, 33 in Tochigi, 28 in Aichi, 27 in Fukuoka and 26 in Gunma and Nagano.

As of the end of March, there were a total of 4,125 registered support organizations, including agricultural cooperatives, that help people go through immigration procedures and get settled in Japan.

The government planned to accept a maximum of 345,150 workers in five years, including a maximum of 36,500 in the farm sector. It allowed employers to hire them directly or as temporary staff dispatched from staffing agencies.

The number of workers coming under the new visa remained low last year because of the lack of sufficient coordination with countries sending people, as well as the complicated procedures and the slow approval process. But an agency official predicted in the end of last year that the number would increase at an accelerated pace, considering that qualifying tests had started to take place.

Currently, however, many countries have halted conducting qualifying tests, due to travel restrictions that are making it difficult for foreign people to visit Japan.

“It is not clear when qualified people can come to Japan,” an agency official said. “Until the coronavirus outbreak ends, those who obtain the new visa would mainly be technical interns in Japan who are switching their resident status.”

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