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Japan approves bill to widen immigration doors to foreign workers

The Japanese government approved a bill on Friday to revise the immigration control law to allow more foreign workers to undertake work in a variety of sectors.

The move comes as the nation grapples with a serious labour crunch caused by its rapidly aging and shrinking society.

Due to the rapidly greying population and declining birthrate, the bill, which was approved by the Cabinet, will allow eligible foreign workers to apply for newly-created visas spanning a variety of sectors from agriculture and construction to daycare and nursing, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Labour shortages are starting to become a major factor hampering economic growth. We will create a proper system,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted as saying at a parliamentary committee.

The bill indicated a significant shift in Japan’s previous tight restrictions for foreign workers entering and working in the country. The change in policy on foreign labour had met some reservations by opposition parties who voiced concern about the shift in Japan’s famously cautious immigration stance.

The Japanese market is in dire need of more foreign labourers, experts say.

Under the proposed legislation, the first status will allow five-year working visas to foreigners with applicable vocational skills in certain fields, but they will not be allowed to bring their families.

For foreign workers eligible for the second status, who have more advanced skills, the length of their stay will be open-ended and they will be allowed to bring their families with them.

Japan’s government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that foreigners coming to work in Japan will be treated equally to their Japanese peers and be made to feel comfortable living and working in Japan.

“We want to create a country where foreigners feel that they want to live and work,” Suga said.

The government and the ruling coalition are aiming to begin deliberations on the bill next Thursday with Abe keen to see it enacted.

Opposition parties, however, warned that the bill is lacking in detail and should not be rushed through Parliament.

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