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Economy

Japan's foreign workers topped 1m in 2016

Exchange students, skilled professionals drive continued growth

A Vietnamese technical trainee works at a Japanese factory.

TOKYO -- The number of foreigners employed in Japan rose above 1 million for the first time last year, growing for the fourth year in a row as the government tries to alleviate labor shortages and secure fresh talent.

Labor ministry data showing foreign employment as of October 2016 is due out soon. It is expected to show an increase of roughly 100,000 from the year-earlier 908,000.

The data encompasses such categories as skilled professionals, technical trainees, working exchange students and permanent residents. While fewer than 2% of people employed in Japan are non-Japanese, this group is growing more prominent in the nation's workforce.

Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asians account for much of the total. By status, working exchange students in particular made up nearly 20% of all foreign workers in October 2015 after swelling nearly 80% over the previous three years. Technical trainees increased nearly 30% over the same period, while such highly skilled workers as researchers and medical professionals rose more than 30%. These trends likely continued over the following year.

Competition with other destinations for foreign talent is fierce. South Korea employed 938,000 foreigners as of May 2015, while Taiwan reported around 590,000 at the end of that year. Both have larger concentrations of foreign workers than Japan relative to their smaller populations.

The Japanese government is taking steps to change this. A work reform council is expected to discuss such steps as agreements with other countries to accept more foreign workers in certain industries suffering from labor shortages -- a list likely to include construction and nursing care.

The Diet passed a measure last session allowing foreign nursing care professionals to qualify for long-term residency if they earn official accreditation in Japan. The government-run Technical Intern Training Program will also be expanded to include nursing care, while the maximum length of time trainees can stay in Japan will be extended from three years to five.

(Nikkei)

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