Japan Will Seek to Prevent Foreign Workers Drifting to Cities

(Bloomberg) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved a policy document Tuesday, seeking to deflect criticism of a law that will open the door to foreign guest workers from April.

Under the new framework, the number of workers coming from abroad will be limited to 345,150 over five years, according to a document distributed to reporters in advance of the decision. The government will seek ways to support local regions by preventing foreign workers from concentrating in large cities, where pay can be higher than in rural areas.

Abe’s government passed the law as it struggles with an aging and shrinking population that has contributed to a labor shortage in the country of about 126 million people.

There are more vacancies than job seekers in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures, while unemployment is hovering at around levels not seen since 1993. The population of Japanese nationals fell by about 448,000 this year, according to the health ministry.

Under the new policy, sectors that remain short-staffed, even after improving productivity and trying to recruit within Japan, will be allowed to employ foreign workers. If the labor shortage is deemed to have been resolved, the system will be halted.

The cabinet also approved a separate document setting maximum numbers for the 14 sectors that will be allowed to recruit the foreign workers. The highest limit was set on elderly care at 60,000 people, with the restaurant industry at 53,000 and construction at 40,000. That compares with a government forecast of a shortfall of 1.5 million workers in five years.

Japan had about 1.3 million foreign workers as of Oct. 2017.

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