Regarding the front-page article headlined “Firms want skilled foreign workers: poll” in the Aug. 21 edition, the author states that the number of foreign workers in Japan “more than doubled in the past decade to 1.3 million,” but that is simply untrue.

The trend he refers to is based on data published by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which, although regularly reported by the mass media, is highly inaccurate and misunderstood for several reasons.

First, it is important to understand that the ministry counts the number of reports on foreign workers submitted by employers, not the workers themselves. Since its reporting system was introduced in 2007, the number of submitted reports increased steadily as more and more employers participated in the process, meaning that a large number of workers were not reported in the early years.

Moreover, due to the rules of the reporting system, it is possible for workers to be unreported or reported multiple times in the same year, especially those who work short-term periods.

It is also important to understand that not all foreigners are covered by the reporting system. Ethnic Koreans with special permanent resident status are excluded, and foreigners who work but not for an employer, such as freelancers and business owners, are ignored by the system. Therefore, the ministry’s data does not represent the entire foreign workforce.

It is possible to estimate the foreign workforce based on census results and foreign population data compiled by the Justice Ministry.

That data suggests the total number of foreign workers stood between 1.2 and 1.3 million for most of the past decade until rising over the past few years to almost 1.5 million.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.