Japan unveils plan to attract more foreign workers

The plan reportedly aims to fill gaping shortages in sectors such as agriculture. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2018
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Japan unveils plan to attract more foreign workers

  • The plan reportedly aims to fill gaping shortages in sectors such as agriculture, nursing, construction, hotels and shipbuilding
  • Businesses have long lobbied for looser immigration rules, saying they struggle to find workers in a country where unemployment hovers around 2.5 percent

TOKYO: Japan on Friday unveiled a plan to attract more foreign blue-collar workers, as the world’s number-three economy battles a crippling labor shortage caused by an aging and shrinking population.
The plan reportedly aims to fill gaping shortages in sectors such as agriculture, nursing, construction, hotels and shipbuilding.
Under the draft legislation, foreign nationals with skills in fields identified as facing shortages would be awarded a visa allowing them to work for up to five years.
Foreign workers in those fields who hold stronger qualifications and pass a Japanese language test will also be allowed to bring family members and can obtain permanent residency status.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday that the bill would be submitted to parliament “at the earliest possible time,” with a possible launch in April.
Japan has traditionally been cautious about accepting unskilled workers from abroad and currently limits residential status to highly skilled professionals.
The only exception to this rule is for South Americans of Japanese descent.
And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has stressed the reforms are not intended as a wholesale overhaul of Japanese immigration policy, and mass immigration is not expected.
Japan will not rely heavily on foreign immigrants and the policy “remains unchanged,” Suga said, asked if this represented a drastic shift in immigration policy toward accepting a large number of foreigners.
Businesses have long lobbied for looser immigration rules, saying they struggle to find workers in a country where unemployment hovers around 2.5 percent and there are 163 job vacancies to every 100 job seekers.
The government has not set a target for foreign workers under the new proposals, although local media put the figure at more than 500,000 people by 2025.
According to government figures, there were 1.28 million foreign workers in Japan in 2017 — twice as many as a decade ago.
But more than 450,000 of those are foreign spouses of Japanese citizens, ethnic Koreans long settled in Japan, or foreigners of Japanese descent, rather than workers coming to Japan to seek jobs.
A further 300,000 are students, who are allowed to work part-time during their studies but are expected to return home afterwards.
Japan had fewer than 240,000 foreign skilled workers and just over 250,000 foreign trainees in the country in late 2017, according to government figures.
It has bilateral deals admitting limited numbers of nurses and care workers from other parts of Asia.


UK inflation rises in April by less than Bank of England expected

Updated 22 May 2019
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UK inflation rises in April by less than Bank of England expected

  • Consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in April after a 1.9 percent increase in March
  • Electricity and gas prices were the biggest driver of inflation last month

LONDON: British inflation rose last month by less than the Bank of England and investors had expected, but still hit its highest level this year, pushed up by a rise in energy bills.
Consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 2.1 percent in April after a 1.9 percent increase in March, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a rate of 2.2 percent, the same as the BoE’s forecast.
Sterling and government bonds were little changed by the data as core inflation, which excludes energy and food prices, held steady at 1.8 percent for the third month in a row.
“In principle, this is another reason to think the Bank of England will keep rates on hold for the foreseeable future,” ING economist James Smith said.
But he added that a strong labor market meant an interest rate hike in November could not be ruled out.
A recent weakening of inflation, combined with the lowest unemployment rate in 44 years and rising wages, has taken the edge off the uncertainty about Brexit for many households whose spending drives Britain’s economy.
But Britain’s energy regulator raised a price cap on energy providers by 10 percent with effect from April, and all big six suppliers raised their standard prices by the same amount, which the BoE said would push inflation above target briefly.
Electricity and gas prices were the biggest driver of inflation last month, the ONS said.
Computer game and package holiday prices helped to offset the impact of the higher bills.
The ONS figures also suggested less short-term pressure in the pipeline for consumer prices than expected.
Manufacturers’ costs for raw materials — many of them imported — were 3.8 percent higher than in April 2018, much less than the 4.5 percent rise predicted by the Reuters poll.
The ONS said house prices in March rose by an annual 1.4 percent across the United Kingdom as a whole compared with 1.0 percent in February, marking the first increase in house price inflation since September.
Prices in London alone fell by 1.9 percent, a smaller drop than in February.
The ONS also revised down its estimate for Britain’s budget deficit in the last 2018/19 financial year that ended in March.
The headline measure of public sector net borrowing amounted to £23.5 billion ($29.8 billion) that year or 1.1 percent of gross domestic product, compared with the previous estimate of £24.7 billion or 1.2 percent of GDP.
In April, the first year of the 2019/20 financial year, the deficit stood at £5.8 billion, as expected by economists.