Since 1 April 2019 two new resident status categories for foreign nationals have been in place. The first of these new resident categories is the specified skills 1 category. It covers individuals who have a substantial degree of knowledge or skill in the 14 initial industrial fields that require additional labour (eg, the construction, caregiving, agriculture, fisheries, food services and car maintenance industries). The second, the specified skills 2 category, covers individuals who have sufficient skills in the specified industrial fields.(1)
These two categories were established in order to cope with Japan's labour shortage. Under the specified skills 1 category, a foreign national may stay in Japan for up to five years but may not stay with their family members. Under the specified skills 2 category, a foreign national may stay with their family members indefinitely, subject to certain conditions.
An employer that employs a foreign national under either resident category must enter into an employment contract with the foreign national and the conditions therein must meet the requirements specified by the Ministry of Justice's ordinance, which includes, for example, a prohibition against discriminatory treatment of foreign nationals. An employer must perform its obligations under the employment contract and implement a support plan for the foreign national in order to help them in their occupational, daily or social life, in accordance with the requirements specified by the Ministry of Justice's ordinance. This obligation includes helping the foreign national to communicate with Japanese individuals and find new work under the same resident status if their employment contract is terminated through no fault of their own.(2) If the employer entrusts a registered support organisation to implement a support plan in its entirety, the employer will be deemed to have implemented it.
Foreign nationals shall, as a rule, enter and reside in Japan subject to the resident status determined on landing at a port of entry or obtaining permission to acquire or change their resident status.(3) The scope of the activities in which a foreign national residing in Japan may engage is limited by their resident status.(4) They are prohibited from engaging in any activities involving the management of a business for profit or the receipt of remuneration (ie, business activities) other than those permitted under their resident status. If they are found to be engaging in business activities outside the scope of their resident status without permission, they may face severe punishment or deportation.(5)
Before the introduction of the specified skills categories, only professionals (eg, investors, business managers, legal and accounting services, medical services, researchers, instructors, engineers, specialists in humanities and international services, inter-company transferees, entertainers and skilled labourers) can conduct business activities. Although trainees and students who obtain special permission can exceptionally conduct simple physical labour, there are many reports of trainees who are forced to work overtime or for low pay in violation of Japan's laws.
The introduction of the specified skills categories is expected to mitigate the labour shortage in the 14 initial industrial fields and improve the employment environment for foreign nationals by strictly requiring that a support plan be implemented.
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