How many foreigners came to Japan and how many left this year?

In this article, we analyze the data to see how many foreigners entered and left Japan from January to May 2020 as the Japanese government shut down borders and placed restrictions on the new entry and re-entry of foreigners with residency permits.

We are looking to answer two main questions:

  • How many foreigners with residency visas (including people with working visas, international students, and permanent residents and their spouses and children) left Japan?
  • How many left without re-entry permits?

The analysis below is based on data published monthly by Japan’s Ministry of Justice’s Immigration Services Agency. A complete data set is available monthly for January to May 2020, so our analysis is based on the first five months of this year.

How many foreigners have residency status in Japan?

As of December 2019, 2,933,137 foreigners had residency status in Japan. This number includes people with working visas, international students, and permanent residents and their spouses and children.

How many foreigners came to Japan in 2020 versus 2019?

For the first five months of the year for which we have a complete data set for 2019 and 2020, there was a drop of about 70% in the number of foreigners entering Japan or a difference of 4,082,263.

January 2020 entry numbers were about the same for both years, but February saw visitor numbers plummet by over 55%. This is because in a typical year, the overwhelming number (about 90%) of foreigners who come to Japan are tourists and the majority of inbound tourists come from Asian countries. The February drop was primarily caused by China’s ban on overseas group tours, which reportedly caused at least 400,000 planned trips to be cancelled.

Entry numbers nosedived stating in March, as tourist numbers plunged amidst the international spread of the virus. On March 11th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic and on March 23, Japan announced that it would start requiring visitors from the United States to self-quarantine for 14 days. The next day, March 24th, the IOC and Tokyo Olympic committee postponed the 2020 summer Olympics for the first time since World War Two.

On April 3rd, Japan announced that in order to control the spread of the virus, it would ban entry to visitors from a list of 73 countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, China, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

More countries were added to the list in April and May. By July, over 127 countries were on the list of countries subject to entry ban.

Total Number of Foreigners Entering Japan – Jan to May 2020 v. YoY
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Total
2019 2,702,560 2,581,770 2,752,194 2,752,194 2,742,819 13,531,537
2020 2,698,824 1,155,960 217,679 5,312 4,488 4,082,263
YoY Change -0.1% -55.2% -92.1% -99.8% -99.8% -69.8%

How many resident foreigners (not tourists) entered Japan in 2020?

If we exclude tourists, the numbers look like this:

Number of Foreigners Entering Japan Excluding Short-Term Visa Holders
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Total
2019 360,835 242,278 308,881 267,264 304,697 1485974
2020 433,897 199,519 91,189 4,624 4,373 733,602
YoY Change 20.2% -17.6% -70.5% -98.3% -98.6% -50.6%

Stranded

As mentioned above, on April 3rd, Japan started shutting down its borders.

It also established the following basic policy regarding entry to the country even for those with re-entry permits:

Foreign nationals who have stayed in the countries or territories (on the entry ban list) within 14 days of applying for landing permission will, in principle, be denied entry to Japan. This rule will be applied regardless of whether you hold a re-entry permit (except in a few special circumstances).

As the media has reported, this caused many foreigners with residency status to be stranded overseas. Starting September 1st, Japan will start allowing foreigners who left with a re-entry permit to return to Japan subject to a negative PCR test and quarantine measures.

No new entrants

The policy also means that Japan is not currently allowing people to newly apply to come to Japan to work or study, except for nationals of 14 countries. Short-term tourist visas are also not being issued at this time.

How many foreigners left Japan in 2020 versus 2019?

In the first five months of 2020,

  • 4,082,263 foreigners entered Japan.
  • 4,460,784 foreigners left Japan.
  • 378,521 more people left than entered.

For the first five months of the year for which we have a complete data set for 2019 and 2020, there was a drop of about 67% in the number of foreigners leaving Japan or a difference of 9,021,373 people.

An important point to note about the number of people leaving Japan in January, February, and March 2019 is that the overwhelming majority (over 90%) were technical trainees. This group of visa holders had high entry numbers in the first three months of 2019 (above 2.4 million people per month on average, accounting for about 92% of foreigners entering the country), then fell by over 99% starting in April 2019 (compared to the first three months of the year), as Japan introduced the Specified Skills visa starting on April 1st, 2019. However, it is also worthwhile to note that the number of workers entering Japan through the specified skills visa has been only a fraction of what the government had hoped for.

Comparing 2020 to 2019, January numbers were about the same. The drop in the number of people leaving in February was due to the fact that the majority of foreigners entering Japan are tourists on short-term visas, which are visas issued with a 90-day validity an are meant to be used for tourism, not residency. Since fewer tourists entered Japan in February due to China’s coronavirus restrictions and travel restrictions and advisories issued by other countries, fewer people also left that month.

In February, about 956,000 entered Japan on a short-term visa and 2,389,000 people on short-term visas left.

Total Number of Foreigners Leaving Japan – Jan to May 2020 v.YoY
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Total
2019 2,653,879 2,642,594 2,588,382 2,946,845 2,650,457 13,482,157
2020 2,667,301 1,429,619 317,423 29,566 16,875 4,460,784
YoY Change 0.5% -45.9% -87.7% -99.0% -99.4% -66.9%

What happened starting in March 2020?

In March 2020, more foreigners left Japan than entered (217,679 entered and 317,423 left). About 58% of the foreigners who entered were on short-term tourist visas and about 71% of foreigners who left were tourists. As Japan started shutting down its borders in early April, this trend became even more pronounced.

How many resident foreigners (not tourists) left Japan in 2020?

From January to May 2020, about 515,000 foreigners with residency status left Japan. This was a YoY drop of about 276% compared to the same period in 2019.

From January to May 2020, about 733,600 foreigners with residency visas entered or re-entered Japan. So more people came to Japan than left, but of course, the majority of these people came in the first two and half months of this year.

Number of Foreigners Leaving Japan Excluding Short-Term Visa Holders and Technical Trainees
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Total
2019 220,899 231,513 262,580 267,373 197,772 1,180,137
2020 263,975 143,472 82,529 15,437 9,852 515,265
YoY Change 19.5% -38.0% -68.6% -94.2% -95.0% -276.3%

Did more resident foreigners come to or leave Japan in 2020?

Excluding short-term visa holders, more foreigners with residency permits came than left the country. About 733,600 entered and 550,000 left, for a net of about 183,600.

However, in April and May, more resident foreigners left than those holding entry or re-entry permits were allowed to come in. As noted above, Japan implemented strict border controls starting in April.

Number of Foreigners Entering and Leaving Japan – Excluding Short-Term Visa Holders – 2020
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Entered Japan 433,897 199,519 91,189 4,624 4,373 733,602
Left Japan 278,183 152,486 91,154 17,095 11,044 549,962
Net 155,714 47,033 35 -12,471 -6,671 183,640

How do the 2020 exit numbers compare to 2019?

For the first five months of 2019, on average, about 236,000 foreigners with resident status (not tourists) left Japan (either with or without re-entry visas).

From January to May this year, the average number of people who left per month was below the 2019 average for every month except for January.

How many left without a re-entry permit

From January to May 2020, about 90,248 foreigners with residency status left Japan without a re-entry permit, with the greatest number leaving in March. As mentioned above, this compares with a monthly average of about 236,000 for the first five months of 2019.

In 2019, about 10% of foreigners with residency status left the country a month without a re-entry permit.

For 2020, this percentage was as follows:

  • January: 7.0%
  • February: 16.3%
  • March: 33.6%
  • April: 57.7%
  • May: 49.5%


Source: Ministry of Justice, Immigration Services Agency

Lead photo: Narita Airport departure board, via iStock