TOKYO : Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved a draft bill to bring more blue-collar foreign workers into the country, in a controversial move to address chronic labour shortages. The draft legislation, now likely to be submitted to parliament as soon as Friday, has come under attack from both the opposition and members of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s own party, but business leaders say it is desperately needed. The bill would allow foreign nationals with skills in sectors facing particularly severe shortages to obtain five-year visas, which would not allow them to bring their families. Foreign workers in those fields who hold stronger qualifications and pass a more difficult Japanese language test will be able to obtain a visa that can be extended indefinitely, eventually leading to residency, and will be able to bring over family. Abe has insisted the new policy does not represent a wholesale overhaul of the country’s strict immigration policy.

Japan will only accept foreign workers “who have specific skills and can work immediately to address serious labour shortages, only in sectors that genuinely need them”, he told lawmakers Thursday. But the bill has nonetheless faced a raft of criticism, potentially jeopardising government hopes to pass it before the end of the year and launch the visas from April.