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Japan immigration

Foreign workers in Japan earn only 70% of average pay

Gap is narrower for white-collar workers, first data show

A Vietnamese technical trainee works at a knitwear factory in Mitsuke, Japan.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Foreign nationals working in Japan earn an average 223,100 yen ($2,068) per month, or around 73% of the national average, according to first-of-its-kind government data released Tuesday.

The disparity is more pronounced among blue-collar workers. Among highly skilled workers, foreigners earn close to the national average, the data show, although the sample size is small.

The biggest contributing factor in the wage gap appears to be the gap in working years.

In the Japanese labor market, salary often rises with seniority. The average worker, including both Japanese and foreigners, has been at the same job for 12.4 years, making 307,000 yen a month. For foreigners, the average career length is only 3.1 years.

Under the technical trainee program, foreigners are paid just 156,900 yen a month, or roughly half the overall average. For part-time work, foreigners receive 977 yen, or about $9, an hour --15% less than the average 1,148 yen.

Though levels of seniority can explain much of the differences, there are cases where foreign workers are illegally paid below the minimum wage, indicating a need to improve working conditions.

Meanwhile, foreign nationals in positions requiring a specialized skills, such as doctors or lawyers, make 324,300 yen a month on average, close to the national average of 325,400 yen for all salaried workers. Here, seniority appears to matter less. Foreigners in this category have been at the same job for an average of 2.7 years, compared with 13 years overall. This suggests they can expect more generous compensation than what is typical.

The data, the first of its kind released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, is based on a survey during June last year.

At the time, only a few foreigners had begun working under a new residency status that took effect in April. The statistics are expected to fully reflect the effect of the new work visas starting next year.

The data also shows the pay gap between men and women full-time workers has shrunk to the narrowest in history, although it remains substantial. Men earn an average 338,000 yen a month while women receive 251,000 yen.

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