The number of foreign residents in Japan had risen 6.6 percent at the end of 2018 from a year earlier, to reach a record high of some 2.73 million, Justice Ministry data showed on Friday.

The increase in foreign students and technical trainee visa holders, especially from Vietnam, contributed to the overall growth, an official with the ministry’s Immigration Bureau said.

As of the end of last year, 337,000 non-Japanese were registered as students and another 328,360 were technical interns who had come to Japan under government-sponsored programs — each figure up nearly 20 percent from a year earlier, the official said.

Vietnamese, comprising 330,835 residents as of late December, saw the highest growth, up 26.1 percent from a year earlier.

“In case of Vietnamese residents in particular, this tendency is owing to strong growth in the number of technical trainees and those who come to work as engineers or specialists in humanities,” the official said.

Of the foreign nationals in the nation, who hail from 195 countries and regions, the Vietnamese community ranked the third-largest group after Chinese residents at 764,720 and South Koreans at 449,634. In addition, Indonesians and Nepalese, also in the top 10, were among the top three strongest growing communities in the past year.

As many as 2.4 million foreigners living in Japan were mid- and long-term residents.

Students and white collar workers who reside in Japan for longer periods of time often acquire permanent residency, which has contributed to a steady growth in the number of foreign nationals with permanent-residency status, the ministry official said. That number stood at 771,568 as of late December.

Moreover, of the total number of foreign residents, 20.8 percent were concentrated in and around the Tokyo area. Other areas with the highest foreign-born populations were Aichi, Osaka, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures.

The ministry also revealed that as of Jan. 1 as many as 74,167 foreigners had overstayed their visas, up 11.5% from a year earlier, with South Koreans topping the list at 12,766.

Vietnamese, with 11,131 illegal residents in Japan, represented the highest increase of illegal foreign residents from the previous year, up by 64.7 percent from December 2017. Nearly 80 percent of those came to Japan under the technical trainee program or with student visas, the official said, highlighting the issue as pressing.

The total number of foreign trainees who were staying in Japan illegally rose to 9,366 from 6,914 within a year.

The official said, however, that foreign trainees are not always to blame for breaking visa rules. She acknowledged cases of foreign trainees becoming victims of rogue dispatchers in their home countries that force applicants to take large loans to pay for their trips to Japan. She said that such agreements are among the reasons why some trainees end up seeking different job opportunities if promised employment conditions are not met. Under the scheme, trainees are not allowed to change jobs while in Japan.

There was also a significant rise in the number of Indonesians whose short-stay visas expired or who had overstayed visas that were given for designated activities.

Although Japan has introduced a visa-free policy for Indonesian tourists, those who apply are only permitted to stay in the country for less than 15 days. Also, those who don’t have an e-passport registered in compliance with international civil aviation standards need a short-stay visa, which allows visitors to stay in Japan for up to 90 days.

Visas for designated activities, meanwhile, are often used by foreign students to undertake paid internships or to look for employment in Japan, as well as to stay temporarily in Japan when their student visas expire.

Although Japan has seen an increase in illegal foreign residents in the past several years, the highest number was recorded in May 1994 when 298,646 foreigners were remaining illegally in the country.

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