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PM Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved draft legislation to open the door for blue-collar workers

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Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved draft legislation on Friday to open the door to more overseas blue-collar workers in sectors grappling with labour shortages, a controversial policy shift in immigration-shy Japan.

Japan’s immigration debate is heating up even as U.S. President Donald Trump puts the topic front and centre for next week’s Congressional mid-term elections.

Despite misgivings in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), parliament is likely to adopt the revisions in the face of intense pressure from businesses battling the tightest labour market in decades, although opposition parties could delay.

The revised law would create two new visa categories for foreigners in sectors with labour shortages. While not spelt out, they are expected to be more than a dozen, from farming and construction to hotels and nursing care as reported by Reuters.

LDP lawmakers signed off on the bill after heated party debate. Many expressed concerns about crime and a negative effect on wages. Opposition politicians accuse the government of undue haste without protecting foreign workers’ rights.

Abe has said the changes do not constitute an “immigration policy”, out of an apparent desire not to upset his conservative backers. Many experts differ.

The tiny nationalist “Japan First Party” has protested against the changes for reasons such as fears foreigners would inflate welfare rolls and crime rates, it says on its website.

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