The number of foreign residents of Japan holding a new skilled worker visa totaled 1,621 as of Dec. 31, the immigration agency said Friday, falling far short of the program's target for the first year.
While the figure was up more than sevenfold from the end of September, it was far behind the maximum of 47,550 foreigners that the Japanese government is hoping will obtain the Specified Skilled Worker visa by the end of March.
Vietnamese accounted for 910 of the visa holders, followed by Indonesians at 189 and Filipinos at 111, according to the Immigration Services Agency, which releases the figure every three months.
While acknowledging the low total, an agency official said, "We would like to step up efforts so the system is more broadly known."
Japan created the new visa system on April 1, 2019, to attract more blue-collar workers from overseas to address its acute labor shortage due to its rapidly graying population and declining birthrate, marking a major policy shift from its traditionally strict immigration rules.
To qualify for the visa, an applicant must pass skill exams and Japanese language tests or have participated in Japan's technical intern program for at least three years.
According to the agency, 1,486 foreigners, or more than 90 percent of the total, used the latter route to acquire the visa.
By prefecture, Aichi topped the list at 127, Saitama was second at 112 and Osaka third at 103.
Of the 14 sectors targeted under the program, food and beverage production had the most visa holders at 557, followed by farming at 292 and industrial machinery manufacturing at 198.
The Specified Worker No. 1 resident status allows foreigners to work in the 14 sectors for up to five years in total.
Proficient workers in the construction and shipbuilding sectors can extend their stays by earning No. 2 status, which allows holders to bring in family members and imposes no limit on the number of times a visa can be renewed.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said last Friday that the number of foreign workers in Japan hit a record 1,658,804 as of October last year.