Foreign permanent residents on rise, filling gaps

Japan’s population started declining in 2005, but in contrast, registered foreigners soared to a record high 2.01 million, a leap from 1.36 million a decade ago and accounting for 1.57 percent of the nation’s total population.

As baby boomers born between 1947 to 1949 start to retire this year, getting more foreign nationals into the workforce and into communities is increasingly becoming a hot topic for the government and businesses.

Foreigners are becoming increasingly visible, particularly Chinese people, the largest-growing ethnic segment.

They are not just part of the labor force but are also the brains behind many new jobs, technologies and services. They also bridge the two major trading partners, and more are increasingly considering Japan their home and are finding opportunities to succeed here.

Koreans still comprise the largest ethnic minority in terms of special permanent residency. In 2005, this group, including those in Japan before the war and their descendants, numbered some 598,000. Statistically, however, their numbers are declining yearly as the elderly pass away and younger Koreans opt to become Japanese citizens.

Other ethnic groups are steadily on the rise, a flow that started around the early 1990s when the country opened its doors to more foreigners to cover a labor shortage. Prominent among them are Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent, but Chinese account for the most, at 519,000, or 25 percent of all registered aliens.

In addition to being long-term residents, entertainers or spouses of Japanese, Chinese like most Brazilians, Peruvians and Filipinos hold status at various levels.

In 2005, some 89,000 were registered as exchange students, 14,700 as engineers and 40,500 as trainees, while 2,500 came as university professors and 1,380 as investors.

Many meanwhile work in industries that depend on them — students employed as part-timers in restaurants, convenience stores and supermarkets, and trainees providing labor in industries ranging from textiles to fisheries to agriculture. An increasing number of small companies also want foreign information technology engineers to run their businesses.

The most notable demographic trend, though, is the rise in permanent residents. This status is generally conferred on foreigners who have “contributed to Japan” for at least five to 10 years. While the number is up for most nationalities, Chinese top the list again. More than 106,000 registered as permanent residents last year, nearly twice the figure of five years ago.

The 1998 deregulation of permanent residency criteria helped expedite the rise, the Justice Ministry said.