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Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000

Foreigners moving to Kansai

Brazilians add to 'gaijin' increase in outlying prefectures

Staff writer

OSAKA -- At a time when Japan is engaged in a national debate about bringing in foreign workers to supplement a dwindling labor force, a new survey of the Kansai region, released by the local branch of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, shows a sharp rise in foreign residents -- but in outlying prefectures rather than major cities.

The figures, compiled by the Justice Ministry, show that Shiga and Fukui prefectures have seen large increases in the number of registered foreigners.

In 1986, there were 8,415 foreign residents in Shiga, and by 1998, this figure had increased to 20,626.

In Fukui, the number of foreigners rose from 5,425 to 10,163 during the same period.

The increase is mainly due to a large influx of Brazilians into the region. Forty percent of foreigners in Shiga are Brazilian, the largest group. They account for 22 percent of foreigners in Fukui Prefecture.

Several factors are behind the increase, including the availability of work at many small and medium-size firms in the region as well as specialized training programs offered by larger companies. Many of the Brazilians are of Japanese descent and have relatives in the region, making it easier for them to procure work visas.

Overall, the MITI report notes that the number of registered foreign nationals for the seven prefectures covered -- Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Wakayama, Nara, Shiga, and Fukui -- was approximately 408,000 as of December 1998.

This represents 27 percent of all registered foreigners in Japan, a drop of more than 15 percentage points since 1986, when 42 percent of Japan's foreign residents lived in Kansai.

Although larger numbers of Brazilians are now calling Shiga and Fukui home, about 90 percent of registered foreign nationals in the entire region are from Asia, followed by those from South America, who account for about 7 percent of the total.

The number of North Americans -- from the United States, Canada and Mexico -- in the region as of 1998 was 7,918, or 1.9 percent of the total number of foreign residents. There were 5,472 Europeans, or 1.3 percent of the total.

By nationality, there were 294,733 ethnic Koreans, who accounted for 72 percent of Kansai's foreign residents. Chinese residents numbered 49,484, or 12 percent of the total. There were 22,271 Brazilians (5.4 percent) and 8,281 Philippine nationals (2 percent).

Those from the U.S. numbered 5,972, or 1.5 percent of the total.

Of the 27 different kinds of residency status, those holding special permanent resident visas at the end of 1998 accounted for nearly 267,000 of the 408,000 total foreign residents in Kansai. Most of these were ethnic Koreans born in Japan who carry Korean passports.

There were about 32,554 foreigners registered as a spouse or child of a Japanese national, and 32,158 with long-term resident status.

Foreign exchange visas for college and precollege students as well as company trainees numbered around 15,700, with about 8,000 people on dependent visas. Nearly 90 percent of foreign college students were from Asia, with about 3.5 percent coming from Europe, 2.2 percent from North America, and 1.6 percent from Central and South America.

There are a variety of work visas available to foreign residents in Japan. The most common is the Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa, normally given to English teachers, interpreters, and translators. About 4,600 Kansai foreign residents had this visa. This was followed by engineer visas, (1,777) and professor visas (1,081).

The report notes that the large number of foreigners who have special permanent residency visas, or were registered as a spouse of such a visa holder, accounted for nearly half of the country's permanent residents, suggesting that Kansai's foreign population is less transient than elsewhere.

As Japan grapples with whether to ease immigration restrictions to make it easier for foreign nationals to live and work, the above statistics suggest that the process has accelerated in the Kansai region more rapidly than previously thought.

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