The number of foreign technical trainees working in Japan declined for the first time in October last year, down 12.6 percent year-on-year due to tighter border controls amid the coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Friday.
But the overall number of foreign workers, including technical trainees, hit a record 1.72 million. Nevertheless, the figure, recorded since 2007 when the government began requiring employers to register such workers, only increased 0.2 percent from a year earlier.
The number of trainees from developing countries under Japan's technical intern program, which has been criticized as being a cover for companies to import cheap labor from other Asian nations, came to 351,788, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.
The number of people working part-time while in Japan for nonworking purposes such as study also declined, down 9.7 percent.
Japan's demand for foreign workers has been growing due to a labor shortage caused by the nation's rapidly aging population.
In response to the pandemic, however, the government temporarily suspended entry into the country by nonresident foreign nationals from the end of 2020.
In November last year, the government eased the measure and started accepting new entry applications from companies and educational institutions for individuals from overseas. But the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant prompted the government to again basically ban the entry of nonresident foreign nationals.
By nationality, Vietnamese accounted for the largest share of foreign workers at 26.2 percent, or 453,344, followed by Chinese at 23.0 percent, or 397,084, and Filipinos at 11.1 percent, or 191,083, the ministry said.
By prefecture, Tokyo had the most foreign workers at 485,382, followed by Aichi Prefecture at 177,769 and Osaka at 111,862.
Japan created a new visa system in April 2019 to bring in more blue-collar workers from overseas to address its acute labor shortage, marking a major policy shift from its traditionally strict immigration rules.