Working in Japan

Living in Japan: Here’s Where Highly Skilled Foreigners Work in Japan – By Industry and Nationality

In this article we take a look at what industries skilled foreign workers are most likely to work in, what countries they come from, and where they live in Japan.

This is a follow up to the series we ran on the new Specified Skills Visa which focuses on the changes in immigration policy which are meant to alleviate the shortage of lower-skill workers in Japan. In a major shift, this April, Japan will start allowing hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers to be eligible for working visas which will allow them to live long-term in the country.

However, another aspect of Japan’s immigration policy is to encourage more highly skilled workers to come to work and live in Japan. Last year, the government announced a revision to the permanent residency rules which will make it easier for highly-skilled foreign professionals (高度人材)  to apply for permanent residency after only five years instead of ten.

In this article, we take a look at where skilled foreign workers, in general, work and live in Japan. We define “skilled foreign workers” using the definition used by Japan’s Ministry of Labor in its latest data release on the status of foreign workers in Japan, as a broad category of workers who hold Professional, Technical, and Specialist in Humanities/International Services visas. This is a broader definition than just focusing on “highly-skilled foreign professionals” (which is just one visa status available to skilled workers).

Even using this broader definition, skilled workers comprise only about 19% of all foreign workers in Japan, as we’ll see below. Let’s see what the data tells us about them!

1. How many foreigners work in Japan?

  • There were a total of 1,278,670 foreigners working in Japan as of the end of October 2018.
  • This was a YoY increase of 18.0% and the highest number ever recorded.
  • In 2018, for the first time ever, the number of foreign workers exceeded the number of Japanese temporary workers (workers dispatched from temporary employment agencies).
  • The number of foreign workers in Japan is expected to significantly increase this year after the new Specified Skills Visa statuses go into effect in April.

2. Why has the number of foreign workers been increasing in Japan?

The Ministry of Labor notes that there are three main drivers causing the number of foreign workers to increase in Japan:

  • The Japanese government has been actively promoting the recruitment of skilled foreign workers and foreign exchange students.
  • The number of Permanent Residents and Spouses of Japanese in the labor force has been increasing.
  • Companies have been actively recruiting workers via the Technical Trainee Visa system.

3. How many foreigners work in professional, specialized or technical industries?

  • There were a total of 238,412 people working with visa statuses associated with professional fields or technical and specialized fields (like Engineering and Specialists in Humanities/International Services).
  • In 2018, these skilled workers comprised 18.6% of all foreign workers in Japan. This number also represents a year-on-year increase of 18.6%.
  • About 75.7% of what are considered skilled workers hold Engineering or Specialists in Humanities/International Services visas.
    • The Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa covers “activities to engage in service that requires knowledge pertinent to jurisprudence, economics, sociology, or other human science fields.”These activities include, for example: interpreting, translation, copywriting, fashion design, interior design, sales, overseas business, information processing, international finance, design, or public relations and advertising based on a contract with a public or private organization in Japan.

4. What industries do most foreigners work in? Show me the breakdown

The majority of all foreigners are employed in the following five industries:

  1. Manufacturing (30.2%)
  2. Service Industries – Not counted in other service industries (14.8%)
  3. Wholesale & Retail (13.0%)
  4. Lodging and Food Services (12.3%)
  5. Education and Learning Support (5.1%)

5. Which industries are most skilled workers employed in?

From 4 above, we know that about 30.2% of all foreign workers are employed in the manufacturing industry.

If we drill down on just holders of visa statuses associated with professional fields or technical and specialized fields, we see that the distribution of these workers across industries is much more even.

Here are the Top Five industries employing workers with visas in technical and specialized fields (the number in parenthesis shows the percentage of workers in these industries as a percentage of all technical and specialized visa holders):

  1. Information and Communications (16.7%)
  2. Manufacturing (15.7%)
  3. Wholesale & Retail (14.1%)
  4. Education & Learning Support (11.6%)
  5. Service Industries Not Counted in Other Industries (10.3%)

Please note that the Ministry of Labor did not do a complete data release for all industries (as is the case for Question 4 above), just the Top Seven industries where technical and specialized visa holders are employed.

The chart below gives more details on the breakdown of technical and specialized visa holders.

6. What countries do most technical and specialized skill visa holders come from?

The Top Five countries from which all foreign workers come are:

  1. China (29.1% of all foreign workers)
  2. Viet Nam (18.8%)
  3. Philippines (11.5%)
  4. Brazil (9.2%)
  5. Nepal (5.4%)

The Ministry of Labor also released data for workers from the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), plus Australia and New Zealand; with a special breakdown for workers from the United States and the United Kingdom.

A few key takeaways from this are:

  • Workers from China comprise 29.1% of all foreign workers in Japan and 40.1% of Professional/Technical/Specialist visa holders.
  • Workers from the G7 countries plus Australia and New Zealand comprise 5.8% of all foreign workers in Japan and  18.2% of Professional/Technical/Specialist visa holders.
  • Workers from the United States comprise 2.5% of all foreign workers and 8.2% of Professional/Technical/Specialist visa holders.

Please see the chart below for a detailed breakdown by the main countries:

7. Where do most most workers with technical and specialized visas live in Japan?

As might be expected, about 30.1% of all foreign workers in Japan live in Tokyo (394,834 out of 1,278,670).

When we drill down to just skilled workers, this number is even more skewed, with about 51.4% of skilled workers (defined as those holding professional/technical/specialist visas) living in Tokyo.

Another takeaway from the data is that Aichi Prefecture has the second highest number of foreigners holding skilled-worker visas. This is because of the high concentration of auto and auto parts manufacturers in Aichi, notably Toyota.

You may also be interested in: Why do foreigners come to live in Japan? Breakdown by visa status

Top photo: Stock Photo