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Japan Proposes New Visa Category for Taxi, Bus, and Truck Drivers under Specified Skilled Worker Program




In a bid to address the growing shortage of drivers in Japan, the government has unveiled plans to introduce a new visa category specifically tailored for foreign workers in the transportation sector. The proposed initiative aims to alleviate labor shortages in crucial industries such as taxi, bus, and truck driving while simultaneously providing opportunities for skilled workers from overseas.


Overview of Drivers Shortage in Japan

Japan is currently facing significant labor shortages across various industries, posing challenges to its economy and workforce sustainability. From healthcare to hospitality, manufacturing to transportation, the nation grapples with a shortage of skilled workers, exacerbating issues stemming from an aging population and declining birth rates. These shortages have become particularly acute in recent years, prompting urgent measures to address gaps in the labor market and ensure the continued growth and productivity of key sectors.


Taxi stop in Japan


The transportation sector is no exception to the labor shortage. In Japan, taxi, bus, and truck drivers are typically older or retired men, with the average age being 58.3 years old. However, as Japan's population ages and birth rates decline, fewer individuals are entering retirement age and subsequently joining the workforce as taxi drivers. This demographic shift, coupled with the physically demanding nature of the job, has resulted in a shortage of drivers in the industry. Consequently, there is an increasing recognition of the need to attract and retain drivers from a wider range of demographics, including fresh graduates, individuals seeking a career change, and foreigners.


It is possible for foreigners to work as drivers even before the government proposes a new visa category under the SSW program. While the existing visa categories may not specifically target transportation occupations, foreign residents with the appropriate qualifications and language skills have been able to find employment as drivers. Some transportation companies actively recruit and support foreign workers to address shortages in their workforce.


The Requirements to Work as SSW Drivers

While the exact requirements for Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) drivers have not yet been finalized, we can anticipate the general criteria based on existing SSW programs and taxi, bus, or truck driver requirements.


Let's talk about the requirements of the Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) programs first. While the specific criteria may differ across industries, there are general criteria applicants must meet, they are:

  • Individuals must be at least 18 years old to be eligible for the program. 

  • Pass either the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) at the N4 level or the Japan Foundation Test for Basic Japanese (JFT-Basic). 

  • Pass a skills proficiency test tailored to their respective industry. This exam evaluates applicants' competence and aptitude in the specific skills necessary for their desired occupation, ensuring they possess the requisite expertise to excel in their roles.

 

The requirements to become a taxi, bus, or truck driver in Japan are relatively straightforward. Obtaining a Japanese driver's license is a must, and the process is generally easy. Moreover, individuals have the option to take the written test in English or other languages, depending on the test center's policies. However, for taxi and bus drivers, who operate commercially with passengers onboard, an additional Class 2 driver's license is necessary. This entails:

  • Passing a written test available only in Japanese

  • Minimum 21 years old or having a minimum of three years of driving experience with the standard license.


Challenges and Considerations

Foreign taxi drivers in Japan face several challenges in adapting to their new roles. One significant obstacle is the language barrier, as many foreign drivers may struggle to communicate effectively with passengers, especially those who do not speak English or their native language. This can lead to difficulties in understanding customer requests, providing directions, and handling inquiries. Additionally, unfamiliarity with local customs, cultural norms, and driving regulations can pose challenges for foreign drivers, potentially impacting their ability to navigate efficiently and provide quality service.


However, as we've seen in existing Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) programs, both the government and companies are committed to providing support. These initiatives aim to assist foreign workers in overcoming challenges and integrating successfully into the workforce. Government-sponsored programs may offer language classes, cultural orientation, and assistance with administrative processes such as visa applications and residency permits. Additionally, companies may provide training, mentorship programs, and workplace accommodations to help foreign workers adapt to their roles. 


Taxi in Japan


Furthermore, the Japanese government is exploring ways to simplify the application process for foreigners applying for SSW driver positions. The consideration includes:

  • The class 2 driver’s license written test will be available in multiple language

The written test for the Class 2 driver's license will soon be offered in languages other than Japanese. This change aims to make it easier for non-Japanese speakers to obtain their driver's license and pursue careers as drivers in Japan. In December 2023, the Japanese Metropolitan Police Department distributed sample questions in 20 languages, including English, Chinese, and Vietnamese, signaling a proactive step toward linguistic inclusivity in driver licensing examinations.


  • The geography test to be a taxi drivers in 13 cities will be abolished

Taxi drivers are expected to have a solid grasp of the local geography, which includes knowing streets, landmarks, and significant destinations within their operating area. While there isn't a formal "geography test," proficiency in local geography is crucial during the hiring process, often supplemented with training to enhance drivers' knowledge of their service area. However, taxi drivers in 13 cities, such as Tokyo and Fukuoka, are required to pass geography tests, notorious for their difficulty even among Japanese applicants. 


The discussions within the Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) program are contemplating the abolishment of the geography test requirement. The primary reason behind this consideration stems from the widespread use of in-car navigation systems in taxis. Additionally, in cases where taxis operate under app-based orders, routes are pre-determined, reducing the need for drivers to possess extensive knowledge of local geography.

 

As the government moves forward with plans to introduce the new visa category, stakeholders remain optimistic about the potential benefits for both the transportation sector and foreign workers seeking opportunities in Japan. With its commitment to addressing labor shortages and fostering economic growth, Japan stands poised to embrace skilled drivers from around the world as integral contributors to its thriving economy.


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