2016 saw the number of foreign workers in Japan reach 1 million for the first time as country faces labour shortage.
The figure is the highest ever recorded in Japan and represents a near 20 per cent increase on that of the previous year.
Workers from China and Vietnam made up the largest proportion of the foreign workforce, accounting for 30 per cent and 16 per cent of the total respectively. The number of Vietnamese workers alone was up by over 50 per cent on 2015.
According to The Japan Times, “the figures suggest Japan is increasingly turning to overseas workers to plug its labor shortages despite its reluctance to accept them.”
“The country is facing its worst labour crunch since 1991 amid a shrinking and aging population, which has prompted calls from the International Monetary Fund for it to accept more overseas workers to boost economic growth,” the report said.
Construction is one of the areas hit hardest by the shortage. Demand for workers in this sector has increased ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well as for rebuilding following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The number of construction labourers from abroad reached 41,000 as of last October, up from around 29,000 the previous year.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that more Japanese women and elderly people should be employed to plug the gaps rather than bringing in foreign labour but, according to the Japan Times, policymakers are exploring ways to bring in more foreign workers without calling it “immigration.”
A system for accepting trainee workers from developing countries was expanded by the government in December, and a new visa status for nurses and domestic helpers was created. The trainee system aims to attract highly skilled workers from overseas by easing the path to permanent residency.
According to The Japan Times, the trainee programme has, however, been dogged by cases of labour abuse including illegal overtime and unpaid wages, prompting criticism from Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department.
Trainees made up 20 per cent of the foreign workforce, labour ministry data showed, an increase of more than 25 per cent on the previous year.
Source: The Japan Times
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