The number of asylum seekers in Japan grew 80 percent to a record 19,628 in 2017 – but only 20 were accepted, the government said on Tuesday.

Immigration is a controversial subject in Japan, where many pride themselves on cultural and ethnic homogeneity, even as the population ages and its workforce shrinks.

Although a major donor to international aid organizations, Japan has been reluctant to relax asylum policies or allow in migrant blue-collar workers.

The number of people seeking refugee status had been on the rise in recent years as people took advantage of a system that allowed applicants with valid visas to work while their refugee claims were reviewed, the justice ministry said.

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