Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party's decision-making body has approved a bill to revise the immigration control law to increase the number of foreign workers from next April.
The LDP's General Council completed in-party procedures on Tuesday.
The revised law will create 2 new categories of working residence status.
Workers in the first category, with a certain level of skill, will be granted up to 5 years of residency status.
The second-category workers, with higher skill levels, will be able to reside longer, and can be accompanied by family members.
Residence status for workers is currently limited to highly skilled personnel such as university professors. Starting next April, the status will be expanded to other fields.
The Justice Ministry says skilled foreign workers are sought by 14 industries including nursing, construction, agriculture and services.
During the discussion, LDP lawmakers said the government must determine as soon as possible how many foreign workers each industry needs.
The government says the new status will be granted only in industries with labor shortages, and that the numbers of workers will be decided soon.
Some lawmakers said this was in fact a policy change to open up the country to immigrants. The government says the change is not intended for accepting immigrants.
Others expressed concern that increasing foreign workers could lead some Japanese to lose their jobs. Other concerns were about how to secure a social security system for foreign workers and maintaining public safety.
The council members approved the revision on condition that the bill will have a reviewing clause after a few years.
The government says it will set up an office that will propose comprehensive policies for foreign workers while strengthening immigration control.
A member of the LDP's junior coalition partner Komeito said objective data on labor shortages should be presented. Another Komeito lawmaker expressed concern about the disappearance of foreigners and illegal stays. Their discussion is to continue on Wednesday.
After Komeito approves the bill, the government is scheduled to gain Cabinet approval on Friday and submit the bill to the Diet.