JAPAN - A points-based preferential immigration system expected to attract 2,000 highly skilled foreign professionals to Japan annually accepted only 17 foreigners in its first 11 months, a dismal result that has prompted the government to review the criteria experts have blamed for the low number, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The system was adopted by the government last May to encourage skilled foreigners to take up residence in Japan and help boost Japanese economic growth.
It gives these specialists privileges such as a shorter minimum-required period of stay for obtaining permanent residence.
Foreigners doing research at universities and other institutions, those with professional skills and corporate managers are eligible to use the system.
They are given points in accordance with such criteria as academic credentials, professional and scholastic achievements and promised annual income.
For instance, a researcher with a doctorate who will work at an academic institution is awarded 30 points, while one with a master's degree gets 20 points.
Applicants who get at least 70 points in total are recognised as "highly skilled professionals" and can receive preferential immigration treatment including the right to acquire permanent residence within five years instead of the normal 10; permission for a spouse to work here; and permission to bring a parent to Japan to help look after the professional's children.
However, only 17 foreigners were admitted to Japan under the point system between May 2012 and early April this year.
This number rose to 434 when foreigners who were already in Japan and successfully applied for the system are added. The total includes 246 from China, 32 from the United States, 19 from India and 16 from South Korea.
In April and May, an expert panel at the Justice Ministry discussed reports that the current criteria were too strict.
One criticism was that the yearly income guideline was based on the salary of company workers, making it difficult for researchers at universities with lower yearly incomes to gain high points.
Another was that only applicants with a yearly income of at least 10 million yen are allowed to have a parent accompany them to Japan.
After hearing these reports, the government began considering the easing of the criteria.
Some possibilities include raising the points given for research papers submitted or patents obtained from the current ceiling of 15 points, shortening the minimum-required period of stay from five years to three for applying for permanent residence, and allowing foreigners on lower yearly incomes to bring an accompanying parent.
These issues will be worked out among the Justice, Foreign and Health, Labor and Welfare ministries, with the government planning to amend the system by year-end.
The government's policy of increasing the number of foreigners to be admitted into Japan via the points system was specified in its growth strategy compiled in June.
"To help our country win in the global competition for excellent manpower, we'll review the system and call on universities and companies to make better use of it," said a senior official at the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of immigration control.