New immigration rules to stir up Japan’s regional rentals scene -- if they work -- Mar 26
On April 1st, 2019, major new immigration reform will take effect with a new “Middle Skilled Worker” (tokuteigino) visa status for foreign workers in Japan.

This new class of visa is designed to alleviate labour shortages due to Japan’s shrinking population in a wide range of industries — including nursing care, cleaning, factory work, construction, hospitality, agriculture, fisheries, and restaurants. If it works, it could lead to a modest influx of foreign workers to Japan with a subsequent need for housing and other support services.

The scheme aims to bring in more than 345,000 migrants to Japan over the next 5 years. The target for the first year is a much more modest 47,550 workers. The new immigration status differs from the much-criticised Technical Intern Training Program in that foreign workers are considered regular employees and there is a path to permanent residence status. Another difference compared to previous efforts to plug Japan’s labour shortages with foreign labour is that applicants need to pass both a language test and a skills test to qualify for the new visa status.

The language component seems to be a nod to concerns about integration of new immigrants. The specific requirement is Level N4 or higher of the Japanese Language Proficiency test. That level requires applicants to be able to read 167 kanji characters, to understand some basic sentences and to have some elementary listening skills. One potential problem is that the total number of people that passed the Level N4 or higher last year was only 154,000 (100,000 when restricted to examinees outside Japan). While that sounds like a lot more than the approximately 70,000 workers needed to meet the targets, a large number of those examinees will either slot into the highly skilled category or they may not have an interest in the industries for which Japan is seeking workers. The question is whether additional people will take the exam (approximately 6 months of study would be required) with the specific goal of fulfilling the requirements of the new visa.

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