The number of foreign nationals who entered Japan in the first half of 2017 jumped 16.4 percent from a year earlier to 13.34 million, the highest level ever on a half-year basis, the Justice Ministry has said.

The result, announced Thursday, is partly attributed to new airline routes to Japan, mainly by low-cost carriers, and a loosening of visa requirements for tourists from Southeast Asian nations and other countries.

Of the total, 3.52 million visitors came from South Korea, 2.67 million from China, 2.19 million from Taiwan, 1.04 million from Hong Kong and 710,000 from the United States.

The number of Russian visitors shot up 37.9 percent — to 38,000 — as Japan relaxed the visa requirements for them in January.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign residents in Japan as of the end of June rose 3.7 percent from the end of December to 2.47 million. Those qualified as highly skilled professionals, including researchers and engineers, grew nearly 50 percent and those with visas for designated activities, including refugees, climbed 15.4 percent.

The number of foreign nationals illegally staying in Japan as of July 1 fell 0.8 percent from Jan. 1 to 64,758, down for the first time in 2½ years, thanks to tightened border controls and an increase in deportations, the ministry said.

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