TOKYO -- As more employers became desperate to fill vacant positions amid a severe labor crunch, the number of foreigners working in Japan soared 18% on the year to 1,278,670 as of the end of October.
The data in a report released Friday by the labor ministry translates to a fifth consecutive year of increases. It is also the highest number since the requirement for businesses to report on their foreign workers took effect in 2007.
The report also shows that foreigners made up about 2% of all employees in Japan. The number of such workers began rising sharply in 2012, jumping by roughly 600,000 over the last five years.
The number of businesses employing foreigners reached 194,595 at the end of October, up 12.6% from a year earlier.
At 372,263 people, Chinese accounted for 29.1% of all foreigners employed in Japan. Vietnamese and Filipinos made up 18.8% at 240,259 and 11.5% at 146,798, respectively. Vietnamese workers increased most sharply, jumping some 40% on the year.
By status, there were 257,788 interns in job-training programs and 259,604 foreign students, with both categories increasing by more than 20%. Nearly 80% of the interns worked in manufacturing or construction, while over half of the foreign students were employed in retail or service jobs.
Highly skilled workers in specialized or technical fields similarly shot up 18.6% to 238,412.
The Japanese government does not issue work visas for unskilled jobs, although many such jobs remain unfilled amid the labor shortage. The surge in the number of foreign interns and students working in Japan indicates that those people are filling the gap.
While an increasing number of Japanese businesses are expressing interest in hiring foreign workers, the current regulations place limits on the number of interns allowed in and their length of stay. Some are calling for a debate on long-term labor and other issues concerning foreign workers given Japan's economic situation.