The number of foreign travelers to Japan plummeted in the first half of this year — the first drop since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku region — after the country imposed strict border controls in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to data released by the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) on Friday.
The number of foreign nationals who entered Japan between January and June totaled 4.09 million, down 75.1 percent from the same period last year, according to agency data. The figure is in sharp contrast to the trend in recent years where Japan has been seeing a steady increase in the number of foreign travelers ahead of the planned Tokyo Games.
Visitors with short-term tourist visas numbered 3.35 million, down 77.2 percent compared with the same period last year. From April, the number of short-term travelers — in particular from China, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated — dropped by around 99 percent.
Japan implemented strict border control measures in early April. Until September, nearly all foreign travelers from countries severely hit by the pandemic were denied entry in principle under its travel ban, which now covers 159 countries and regions.
Japan’s border control measures have also resulted in a slight drop in the number of illegal overstayers — down 0.3 percent at 82,616 — as of July 1.
Despite the downward trend, however, the number of Nepalese visa overstayers rose 33.5 percent to 1,013, compared to the figure as of Jan. 1. According to the ISA, Nepalese are among those who are seeking permission to remain in Japan while attempting to settle in the country as refugees under the designated activities visa, which allows applicants to undertake any activity, paid or otherwise.
The agency said that 15,399 foreign nationals who failed to extend their stay due to limited visa services, especially between April and June when the government declared a state of emergency, were not included in the tally.
The pandemic has also ended the streak of seven straight years of growth in the foreign population, with 2.89 million people registered as residents as of the end of June, according to the agency.
At the end of last year, Japan had a record 2.93 million non-Japanese living in the country as more and more technical interns and workers entered the country amid a severe labor shortage.
Chinese residents remained the largest group with 786,830, followed by South Koreans at 435,459. But despite the overall downward trend, the number of Vietnamese residents, the third-largest community, rose by 2.1 percent since last December.
As of July 1, Tokyo had the biggest concentration of foreign nationals at 568,665, despite a slight drop in its foreign population by 24,793, or 4.2 percent, compared with data from last December.
An ISA official said the pandemic has most severely affected people coming into the country on student visas, with a drop of 18.9 percent to 280,273 — the biggest — compared with data from the last tally.
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