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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 17:00 GMT
Japan mulls language visa tests
By Chris Hogg
BBC News, Tokyo

People in Asakusa shopping street, Tokyo, Japan (26/12/2007)
Foreigners make up less than 2% of Japan's population
Japan is considering introducing language tests for foreigners who want to live and work there.

Officials are investigating how a scheme adding a language requirement for long-term residency visas and work permits could be implemented.

Japan recently began photographing and finger-printing all foreign nationals when they enter the country

There are about two million foreigners living in Japan, less than 2% of the country's population.

Those who apply for visas to live or work here do not have to prove they can speak Japanese.

Most come from Korea, China or are Brazilians of Japanese descent.

Fighting terrorism

Officials say Japan's Foreign Minister, Masahiko Komura, has long held the view that it would be better if long-term visitor could speak Japanese.

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura (file photo)
Mr Komura says society benefits from foreigners speaking Japanese

He says it would improve their quality of life, and society as a whole here would benefit too.

Officials are quoted as saying that adding a language requirement to the visa application process could help to combat illegal immigration or terrorism.

But some here fear that requiring all foreign workers to learn Japanese before they arrive could harm Tokyo's efforts to attract international business and to compete with other Asian cities like Singapore and Hong Kong.

Last year an opinion poll carried out for the government found that more than half the foreigners who live in areas where they mix with Japanese people would like more opportunities to interact with them.

But only one in 10 of the Japanese living in the same areas wanted to talk to someone from abroad.

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