Japan sees record high number of foreign residents: Justice Ministry

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

The number of foreign residents in Japan reached an all-time high last year, the Justice Ministry reported Friday.

There were 2.23 million long-term and permanent foreign residents in Japan as of the end of last year, up 5.2 percent from 2.12 million people at the end of 2014, according to the ministry.

It was the highest number since the ministry began keeping data in 1959.

The largest group by nationality was Chinese, with 665,847 people, accounting for almost 30 percent of foreign residents in Japan, followed by 457,772 South Koreans and 229,595 Filipinos.

An immigration bureau official said the surge in foreign resident populations is linked to a government campaign to draw more foreign visitors, as well as signs of economic recovery.

“The number of foreign visitors in Japan increased dramatically last year . . . At the same time, we also have an increasing number of foreign residents” who intend to stay in the country for business or study, the official said.

The number of visitors from overseas reached a record 19.73 million people last year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

Meanwhile, the number of residents who had overstayed their visas has also increased.

The ministry reported that there were 62,818 foreign nationals overstaying their visas as of Jan. 1, up 4.7 percent from the same date last year.

This marks the second year the figure has risen. Last year’s increase was the first in more than two decades, and the trend comes despite recent efforts by the ministry to crack down on overstayers.

Among overstayers, South Koreans were the biggest group with 13,412 people, followed by Chinese with 8,741, and Thais with 5,959. The largest increase was among Indonesian overstayers, with a 77.1 percent surge year on year. The country ranked seventh among overstayers overall, with 2,228 people.

The official said this resulted from a jump in visa waivers to Indonesian tourists in December 2014. In 2013, before visa requirements were eased, only 113 Indonesians overstayed their visas. The number increased slightly to 164 in 2014, but spiked almost tenfold in 2015 to 1,200 people.

By visa type, short-term visitors — mostly tourists — were the biggest group with 42,478 people. But a significant surge was seen among people arriving as interns for the government’s foreign trainee program: 5,904 such people were found to be overstayers, a rise of 26.2 percent from last year.

The official said the result reflects the recent trend of an uptick in the number of foreign trainees fleeing workplaces, which hit a record 5,803 in 2015.

The foreign trainee program has been often criticized for the harsh labor conditions of foreign interns, who are often forced to work overtime, and for extremely low wages.

The ministry also said 3,063 illegal immigrants have been served deportation orders as of Jan. 1, of which 1,406 people were applying for refugee status.

  • Pink Floyd

    That’s right foreigners are mendoksai, overstayers and all sorts of problems, not one mention of how foreigners are making a contribution and paying tax and trying to integrate in Japanese society, just a negative bias to this article that overstayers are a problem.

    • Tokyogreen

      I didn’t see a huge problem with this article. It just listed figures and statistics, and in fact the only (and very brief) editorial comment was about the harsh conditions endured by some foreign trainees. I didn’t see anything about mendoukusai foreigners or “all sorts of problems” other than the numbers overstaying (and overstaying your visa is a deliberate – or, at best, extremely careless – act. In the past I have complained about similar Ministry or Police Agency figures which list the number of crimes committed by foreigners, with the sub-text that they are terrible people, but I thought this time the figures were pretty bland.

  • Charles

    I’m trying to figure this out…

    The yen is weak right now. Sure, it has been weaker, but it’s still weak. 113.82 yen to the dollar is still pretty weak, considering that many times over the past 30 years, it has been around 100 or even stronger. The economy is also contracting (as revealed in Q4 of 2015, when the economy contracted 1.4% year-on-year). So I really can’t figure out why there is a record number of foreign residents here this year. Immigration regulations sure haven’t gotten significantly easier, so that can’t be it.

    If most of the increase was due to foreign students taking advantage of Japan’s weak yen to get cheaper college tuition, then I’d understand, but the article doesn’t mention that. The article even emphasizes long-term and permanent residents. In order to become a long-term or permanent resident (as opposed to tourist or medium-term resident such as student or one-year contract worker), you pretty much have to be either working or married, and I would not expect more people to be attracted to Japan in 2015 for either work or marriage by a weak yen and a contracting economy.

    Now, I hear the peanut gallery saying “Stop being so greedy! Not EVERYONE is in it for the money like you are!”

    Well, I understand that not everyone is in it for the money. I’m sure not. Because I could be banking several times more by teaching English in Saudi Arabia. But if not money, then what? Ninja and Kinkaku-ji? Anime and video games? I thought Japan already had those.

    What specifically has made so many people suddenly want to come to this sinking ship of a country at this late hour, to put it bluntly?

    All I can think is that these are mostly foreign students taking advantage of the cheap yen (I’m not saying “taking advantage” pejoratively–I mean, “good for them, I’d do the same thing in their shoes”) and that the article just fails to mention that. Because I can’t see how Japan, in its current state, could be attracting more foreign workers/professionals than five or six years ago when the yen was much stronger.

    • Christina Tsuchida

      I wonder whether the reason for the current surge in long-term foreign residents is the current steeper ageing of the Japan-native workforce. Abenomics has called for women to shine so as to avert the need to assimilate possibly difficult foreign “human resources”, but that plan is still slow (for various reasons such as lack of childcare buildings and staff).
      Some comments refer to foreigners as bothersome (Japanese, MENDOUKUSAI) but that is not innate. It is a threat-word: it poses the possibility of enculturation to thoughtfully avert being a bother.