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Foreign-born population – 2018

2.6 million, 52% women

2% of the population

Evolution since 2007: +19%

Main countries of birth:

China, Korea, Viet Nam

In 2017, Japan received 99 000 new immigrants on a long-term or permanent basis (including changes of status), 4.3% more than in 2016. This figure comprises 53.5% labour migrants, 30.1% family members (including accompanying family), 0.1% humanitarian migrants and 16% other migrants.

Around 123 000 permits were issued to tertiary-level international students and 218 000 to temporary and seasonal labour migrants and trainees.

China, Viet Nam and the Philippines were the top three nationalities of newcomers in 2017. Among the top 15 countries of origin, Viet Nam registered the biggest increase (21 000) and the United States the largest decrease (-200) in flows to Japan compared to the previous year.

In 2018, the number of first asylum applicants decreased by 45%, reaching around 10 000. The majority of applicants come from Nepal (1 700), Sri Lanka (1 600) and Cambodia (1 000). The largest increase since 2017 concerned nationals of Nepal (300) and the largest decrease, nationals of the Philippines (-4 000). Of the 14 000 decisions taken in 2018, 0.5% were positive.

Emigration of Japanese to OECD countries decreased by 14.6%, to 30 000. Approximately one in four (22.8%) migrated to Germany, 15.2% to the United States and 14.7% to Korea.

In December 2018, Japan passed amendments to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act which took effect in April 2019. The amendments introduced two new grounds for temporary labour migration, “Specified Skilled Worker” (i) and (ii). A list of 14 fields where employment is allowed was established, along with a ceiling for admission for the period 2019-23 of 345 000. The main fields are projected to be care workers (60 000), food service industry (53 000), building cleaning management (37 000), construction industry (40 000), agriculture (36 500), manufacture of food and beverages (34 000) and accommodation industry (22 000). The system will be reviewed after two years.

The Specified Skilled Worker (i) category applies to workers "with a considerable degree of knowledge or experience" in specified industrial fields, while the Specified Skilled Worker (ii) category is for those with "expert skills" in these fields. Employment with Specified Skilled Worker (i) is contingent on passing a Japanese language test (level N4 or higher of the Japanese Language Proficiency test) and a field-specific skills test. Foreigners who have successfully completed “Technical Intern Training (ii)” will be able to change their status to Specified Skilled Worker (i) without taking the language or skills test.

Under the new law, a Specified Skilled Worker (i) may renew their stay and work for up to five years in Japan; they are in principle not allowed to bring their spouse or children. A Specified Skilled Worker (ii) may renew their period of stay without restrictions and may bring their spouse and children as long as they satisfy certain legal requirements. Family members are not allowed to work although they are eligible to acquire a status of residence which allows employment. For both categories, employer changes are possible on the condition that the worker remains in the same field for which he or she was admitted.

Skill tests for the Specified Skilled Worker (i) category were implemented in April for three fields: care worker, food service industry and accommodation industry, with other fields to follow. For tests in the origin country, Japan is in discussions with a number of potential partner origin countries, including many which participate in the current technical intern training programme. The framework for language and skill tests for the Specified Skilled Worker (ii) category will be rolled out later.

To reduce the risk of abuse, Specified Skilled workers must be paid via a bank account, or through a method that is verifiable. Accepting organisations are required to support employees in their work life, everyday life and social life.

Japan has created an Immigration Services Agency within the Ministry of Justice, which will take over the tasks of the Immigration Bureau of Japan along with oversight of the technical intern training system and the new Specified Skilled Worker system.

Several Japanese National Strategic Special Zones (NSSZs) have been authorised to sponsor promising entrepreneurs with capital and an approved business plan. Accepted entrepreneurs would receive a six-month business manager permit with a possibility for renewal upon achievement of certain goals. Some of the NSSZs provide support including funding and incubator access.

For further information:

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Key figures on immigration and emigration - Japan
Key figures on immigration and emigration - Japan

Notes and sources are at the end of the chapter.


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