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Friday, May 2, 2008

Bill ties visa to language skills

Staff writer

Looking to encourage Japanese language learning among foreigners, the government is set to submit a bill to the Diet next year designed to make it easier for those who demonstrate a certain level of language proficiency to get visas of up to five years, a government study group said Thursday in an interim report.

The current maximum limit is three years.

The government plans to submit a bill to revise the immigration system to an ordinary Diet session that convenes in January.

"(Foreign Minister Masahiko) Komura underscored that having a reasonable level of Japanese proficiency is vital for foreign nationals seeking long-term residency permits to adapt to Japanese society and lead a sound communal life in Japan," a statement issued Thursday by the Foreign Ministry read.

Komura first floated the idea in January this year, sparking widespread concern among foreigners that the government may be tightening visa control over foreigners who do not speak the Japanese language.

But both Komura and other Foreign Ministry officials emphasized that the revision would only give more visa opportunities to foreigners with Japanese language skills who would, without the new system, find it difficult to acquire a longer-term visa.

"Even without any Japanese skills, there would be no trouble (applying for) the current three-year visa status," Komura told reporters.

"This would go in the direction of deregulating visa status, not strengthening it," he said.

Neither the level of language skill required nor how it would be tested have been determined yet.

The language test would not be compulsory, a ministry official in charge of the visa issue told a media briefing the same day.

According to ministry officials, the new system is aimed at encouraging non-Japanese to learn Japanese, particularly descendants of Japanese immigrants from South America, many of whom fail to master the language.

The new language-skill-based visas would benefit people in certain occupations such as interpreter, translator and flight attendant, the official added.

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The Japan Times

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