New policy on foreign workers

Japan's Cabinet has approved a draft bill that would allow the entry of more foreign blue-collar workers as the country's rapidly 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.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied that the new policy means Japan is opening its doors to immigrants, to reassure his nationalist supporters. 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.

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

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