TOKYO -- Unskilled foreign workers are entering the Japanese workforce indirectly despite policies that officially block nonprofessionals, underscoring the need to change these rules to ease labor shortages more effectively.
Non-Japanese workers totaled 1.08 million at the end of October, up a record 19% on the year, labor ministry statistics released Friday show. This fourth straight year of growth put the tally above 1 million for the first time. The number of workplaces employing foreigners rose 14% to 172,798.
The 344,658 Chinese workers accounted for 32% of the total, making them the largest group by nationality. Vietnamese ranked second at 16% and Filipinos third at 12%. Foreign professionals employed in specialized and technical fields rose 20% to 200,994, with technical trainees and working exchange students each growing more than 20% as well.
Though the government actively encourages skilled professionals to work in Japan via a point-based immigration system, it does not accept unskilled foreign labor. Yet the country has seen an influx of such workers in the form of exchange students and technical trainees, who often perform unskilled work.
A government work reform council will discuss policies for letting in more foreign labor, such as agreements with other countries to accept workers in certain industries that are particularly short-handed.
The government "needs to draw up rules for officially accepting workers other than skilled professionals," argued Hisashi Yamada, chief economist at the Japan Research Institute.