National

Foreign workers in Japan triple in decade to record 1.46 million

Kyodo

The number of foreign workers in Japan tripled over a decade to a record-high 1.46 million as of October, official data showed Friday, as companies continue to struggle with a labor shortage.

As of Oct. 31, there were 1,460,463, foreign workers in Japan, up 14.2 percent from a year earlier, marking the 11th straight year of increase, according to the data released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The figure, the highest since comparable data became available in 2008 when it stood at around 486,000, is almost certain to rise in the years ahead, as Japan has decided to ease visa restrictions and accept more foreign workers starting from April.

The labor ministry attributed the increase to the government’s policy of promoting the hiring of highly skilled workers, students as part-timers, and trainees from developing countries under its technical intern program.

By nationality, Chinese accounted for more than a quarter of the total foreign workforce at 389,117, up 4.5 percent from the previous year, followed by Vietnamese at 316,840, up 31.9 percent, and Filipinos at 164,006, up 11.7 percent.

By sector, manufacturing hired the largest number of foreign workers at 434,342, followed by retailing at 186,061, and hotels and catering at 185,050, with 230,510 workers categorized under “other services.”

The Diet passed new legislation in December paving the way for the country to formally open its doors to blue-collar workers.

Under the new visa system to start in April, up to 340,000 foreigners will be issued with work permits over the next five years in 14 sectors including construction, farming and nursing care.

It represents a major policy shift for a country that has basically granted working visas only to highly skilled people with professional knowledge such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.