Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals Increasing in Japan’s Rural Areas; Local Govts Providing Support to Counter Manpower Shortage

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Buildings in Tokyo are seen with Mt. Fuji in the background in March 2021.

Companies outside of Tokyo are increasingly hiring “highly skilled foreign professionals,” those eligible for a designated visa due to specialized knowledge and skills, amid a worsening labor shortage. The percentage of such personnel in areas other than Tokyo, where they used to be concentrated, has increased over the past decade.

There was a record 2.04 million foreign workers in Japan at the end of October 2023, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. That is 2.6 times the number in 2014, with foreign workers active in many industries.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry recognizes foreign workers who graduated from Japanese or overseas universities and engage in research, development or overseas sales at Japanese companies as highly skilled foreign professionals. The nationwide number of personnel falling into that category went up from 147,296 in 2014 to 457,386 in 2023, an increase of about 210%.

Tokyo has the largest number of highly skilled foreign professionals, with 200,160 in 2023, an increase of over 160% from 75,144 in 2014. “There are many universities with foreign students and many companies with high salary levels, making it easy for them to find employment [in Tokyo],” an economy ministry official said.

However, the concentration of such personnel in Tokyo has decreased, from 51% of the nationwide number in 2014 to 43.7% in 2023. The domestic dispersion increased in 30 prefectures, including Osaka and Aichi prefectures, during the period.

From 2014 to 2023, the rate of increase in the number of highly skilled personnel was particularly high in Shiga Prefecture, which saw an increase from 717 to 4489, or 520%. Gunma Prefecture numbers surged 440% from 1,218 to 6,657, and Kumamoto Prefecture increased by 400%, from 552 to 2,792.

At a construction company in Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, 45 of its 85 employees are highly skilled foreign professionals who graduated from Vietnamese national universities and other institutions.

“Young Japanese [workers] don’t even consider rural areas. Talented foreigners are our lifeline,” said the company’s 77-year-old president. The firm, which holds several patents for seismic isolation and other construction methods, offers the same salary and personnel evaluation for foreign personnel as Japanese workers. The company also encourages married couples to work together to support accompanying family members.

Prefectural governments are also making moves to support local companies. The Kagawa prefectural government will promote working at companies in the prefecture during a Japanese language education course that it will set up at Vietnam’s Hanoi University of Science and Technology.