Japan facing customs officer shortage as foreign visitors surge


A serious shortage of customs officers for border control is being encountered amid an increase in travelers from abroad.

As the number of foreign tourists is expected to rise further toward the 2020 Games, the Finance Ministry hopes to boost the number of customs officers by 263 in fiscal 2019, which begins next April, from 9,387 at the start of fiscal 2018, to ensure smooth customs inspections and the thorough implementation of measures to prevent terrorism and other crimes.

In addition, the ministry aims to secure a budget of ¥5.9 billion in fiscal 2019 for introducing high-performance metal detectors and X-ray security screening equipment.

In the case of Kyushu, located close to China and South Korea, large cruise ships with thousands of tourists from the two countries often call at the island’s ports.

Facing a shortage of staff, Moji Customs in the city of Kitakyushu carries out border control with support from officers dispatched from nearby customs branches.

“If something illicit is found, such as an unauthorized drug, we get caught up in related paperwork and inspections,” said an official at Moji Customs. “As a result, delays are caused in our usual customs operations.”

Nagasaki Customs, meanwhile, in the city of Nagasaki, which covers Amami Oshima, Yakushima and other remote islands that are popular tourist destinations, has to send staff to ports every time a cruise ship arrives.

Another factor behind the shortage of customs officers is an increase in gold smuggling stemming from soaring gold prices.

The number of such cases detected in 2017 rose 66 percent from the previous year to a record 1,347, with the amount of gold seized jumping more than twofold to 6,236 kilograms, also a record high.

“The workload is always increasing,” said a senior official of the Customs and Tariff Bureau at the Finance Ministry.

“Streamlining our workflow through equipment upgrades and increasing the number of staff is essential in order to conduct baggage checks properly,” they added.

The Japanese government aims to increase the number of foreign visitors to the country from some 20 million in 2015 to 40 million in 2020 and 60 million in 2030.

While the number of foreign visitors to Japan reached 28.69 million in 2017, up more than threefold from 8.35 million in 2007, the number of customs officers at the beginning of fiscal 2018 was up only 9.6 percent from fiscal 2007.