Japan's foreign population down for first time in 48 years

TOKYO, July 7, 2010 (AFP) - The number of foreign residents in Japan fell for the first time in nearly half a century last year as a severe recession hit jobs in the auto and other industrial sectors, according to government data.

A total of 2.186 million people were listed as foreign residents at the end of 2009, down 1.4 percent from a year earlier, ending a rising streak for the 47 consecutive years since 1962, the justice ministry said.

"We assume one of the reasons was that the global financial crisis triggered a recession," prompting companies to shed jobs, an official at the ministry's immigration bureau said.

Japan has one of the world's lowest birth rates, but it has rejected large-scale immigration of unskilled workers.

The ratio of foreign residents to Japan's total population of 127 million was only 1.71 percent in 2009.

The global slowdown since 2008 badly shook Japan's automakers, which hire South American descendants of Japanese immigrants on assembly lines.

The government grants a special visa to these Japanese descendants, but the number of Brazilians in Japan decreased by 14.4 percent in 2009 and the number of Peruvians was down 3.8 percent.