Japan PM Shinzo Abe
Japan PM Shinzo Abereuters

The Japanese government has accepted a proposal to hire more foreign workers to address the problem of chronic labour shortage. The proposal, which represents a major policy shift in the country, will be tabled in the parliament soon despite stiff political opposition, including from the ranks of Shinzo Abe's ruling party.

The proposal is to allow manual labourers and medical workers from abroad to stay and work in Japan for longer term, Japan Times reported. Japan has been facing severe labour shortage in sectors such as nursing, construction and farming. As per the draft proposal, foreign workers won't be allowed to bring in their families.

At the outset, the move will be a boon to countries like India, which sends abroad hundreds of thousands of skilled labour in fields such as nursing every year. The fast-ageing Japanese society is expected to offer thousands of jobs every year in areas like geriatric care, physiotherapy and other related medical fields.

The bill will face opposition in the Diet as lawmakers are wary about details such as how many foreign workers will be hired and which sectors will employ them. There are also concerns over the impact of an influx of foreign workers on the closely-held and traditional Japanese society.

There are also concerns over the new policy's impact on the social security system in the country. Prime Minister Abe tried to assuage concerns on Thursday. He said the government will allow only those who have  "specific skills and can work immediately to address serious labour shortages, only in sectors that genuinely need them".

International Nurses Day, nurses day
International Nurses Day is celebrated on May 12.Reuters

Significantly, the PM said there was no plan to integrate migrants. The migrant workers' stay in the country would be for a limited period, he said. "Please don't misunderstand, we are not thinking about a so-called immigration policy," he added.

The tightly held Japanese society has been less open to foreign workers than all other industrialised nations. However, Japanese businesses have of late realised the necessity to make the regulations more flexible.

In March, a high level Japanese official said there's a plan to hire as many as 200,000 Indian engineers. The plan was to allow the Indian IT professionals to settle down in Japan and fast-track their green cards, Shigeki Maeda, Executive Vice President at Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), a government body, told the Economic Times.

"Currently there are around 9,20,000 IT professionals in the country and there is an immediate demand for more than 2,00,000 IT professionals from India which is likely to further swell to 8,00,000 professionals by 2030," he said.

There are currently 1.28 million foreign workers in Japan. Significantly, this number doubled in the last six years -- from 680,000 in 2012 -- according to Japan Times. While the Chinese are the biggest demographic group, Vietnamese and Filipinos are also employed in large numbers.

Japan's population stands at 126 million.