Japan to loosen work rules on foreigners stuck due to pandemic

FILE PHOTO: Office workers wearing protective masks, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, work at a business building in Tokyo, Japan November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is loosening regulations on part-time work for foreigners stuck in the country due to the novel coronavirus and having trouble supporting themselves, the government said on Tuesday.

While temporary, the measures - which take effect from Tuesday - are a liberalisation of labour curbs on foreigners in an aging economy suffering from huge shortages of workers but where the ruling party has been reluctant to embrace a full-fledged immigration reform.

A number of foreigners in Japan, either as students or on other visa statuses, have been stuck in Japan longer than expected due to the coronavirus pandemic as a result of things such as strict quarantine rules in their home nations or a lack of plane flights, leaving some without financial support.

The new rules will allow people with 90 day short-stay permits to renew their permits and receive permission to work up to 28 hours a week, while technical trainees will be able to change their visas to a "specified activity" work permit for six months, the Justice Ministry said on its website.

People on student visas will be able to work for up to 28 hours a week even if they are no longer students.

An immigration bureau official told Reuters news of the measures would be spread on social media and their duration would "depend on the situation."

About 21,000 foreigners in Japan may be eligible, NHK public broadcasting said.

Labour activists said the measures fell short.

"It's better than nothing, but these people will not be eligible for either health insurance or welfare support. If they can find jobs that's one thing, but it's really insufficient for those who can't," said Koichi Kodama, a lawyer with expertise in foreign labour issues.

"If they wanted to do it right, they should grant them permanent resident status."

(Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Elaine Lies; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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