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Japan immigration

Foreign workers in Japan double in 5 years, hitting record

Chinese account for largest share, while number of Vietnamese surges

The number of Vietnamese workers in Japan, like this man who has a job at an auto parts producer, grew 32% last year. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- The number of foreigners working in Japan reached a record high of 1.46 million, rising twofold over the past five years as the country grapples with a labor shortage, government data showed on Friday.

The figure as of October 2018 represents a 14% increase from the previous year and the sixth consecutive annual gain, according to data released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

China topped the list with nearly 390,000 workers in Japan as of October, accounting for 27% of Japan's foreign employees.

Vietnam ranked second, at over 310,000 and 22% of the total. The Philippines followed with around 160,000 workers, or 11%. Vietnamese workers rose the most in percentage terms, with an increase of 32% over the past year.

The largest share of Japan's workers from overseas -- more than 430,000, or 30% of the total -- ply their trade in manufacturing. Other sectors, such as retail as well as food and beverage service, contributed about 14% to 17% of the total.

Though the number of foreign workers has increased rapidly, they still make up a small share of Japan's total workforce at just 2%.

Japan's serious labor shortage has left the government scurrying to create a framework to boost the number of foreign workers and ease the strain on employers.

A foreign worker law that takes effect in April lets the country formally accept blue-collar workers from abroad and give them a pathway to permanent residency. This likely will prompt even more foreigners to choose Japan as an employment destination. The government estimates that up to 340,000 foreign workers could enter Japan in the five years after the law takes effect.

Though the law will allow additional overseas workers in agriculture, nursing and 12 other sectors, issues such as ensuring adequate working conditions for these employees have yet to be resolved.

Concerns remain over Japan's health care system and its ability to accommodate immigrants and their families. The government is trying to ensure that foreign workers will be able to do their jobs while being integrated into their communities.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Motors, Panasonic and two other companies were forced to cancel so-called technical trainee internships on Friday. The internships allow companies to hire foreign workers at low salaries. However, the companies were found to have treated these laborers inappropriately by leaving them in charge of work that they were not authorized to do under the program.

Nikkei staff writer Jada Nagumo contributed to this report.

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