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Japan’s MoJ loosens employment rules for international graduates

Japan’s Ministry of Justice has announced a significant loosening of rules around residency for international students in time for spring 2019. The initiative will mean that graduates can work in any role as long as they earn over an annual salary threshold of 3 million yen, or £20,462.70.

Japan will open up a wider path to residency status as soon as next spring, allowing international grads to work in any field after graduation. Photo: Nagoya University

The measure may boost the number of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Nepalese international students in Japan

The threshold initiative comes within the context of Japan’s struggle with population decline and labour shortages and its anticipation of welcoming hundreds of thousands of foreign workers.

“I doubt companies are prepared to pay [more] to international students unless they have special skills”

Currently, graduates can only work within their field of study, for example under the Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa: a wide catch-all visa that includes professions from language teachers to investment bankers.

In recent years, only about a third of international students graduating from Japanese universities were subsequently employed in the country, falling short of the government’s 50% target.

Assistant International Student advisor at the Graduate School of International Development at Nagoya University, Akihiro Asakawa, is doubtful that the measure will do much to change the situation.

“I think this measure will have a very marginal effect. It is said that annual income for newly graduated employees is around 2.3 million yen (£15,506) on average,” Asakawa said.

“I very much doubt whether companies are prepared to pay [more] to international students unless they have special skills, and big companies who are willing to pay more than 3 million yen to new employees normally do not have so much trouble under the current ESHIS visa system.

“Therefore, I strongly believe there will not be so many companies to try to use this new measure.”

However, Hiroshi Ota, a professor at the Center for Global Education at Hitotsubashi University, and director of the university’s Global Education program welcomes the “equal footing” that the MoJ’s measure will give to international students with their Japanese peers in the job market.

“I think this measure will have a very marginal effect”

“People working in vocational schools will be even more pleased than me,” continued Ota, adding that international vocational school graduates are currently required to find a job related to what they studied.

“This has been criticised for constraining job seekers’ options since, generally speaking, in Japan what a student studied is not so much related to what kind of job you can apply for. Which university you studied at is more important.”

Ota believes that the measure will particularly boost numbers of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Nepalese international students staying in Japan.

“They are three major source countries of international students for Japan. They account for 40%, 23%, and 8% [of numbers] respectively. The majority of them would like to get employed in Japan after graduation from universities and colleges.”

These figures are echoed in a recent report that, in response to acute demand in Japan’s healthcare sector, the number of overseas students studying in Japan’s nursing schools has doubled since 2015.

Students from the previously mentioned countries, along with Indonesia and the Philippines, are among the largest source countries.

While it may be unclear as to the extent the new residency regulations may have on more international students staying in Japan, there has been some doubt cast on how well the country will cope with housing any increase in international students.

A report this month in The Investor, the journal of real estate investment managers Jones Lang Lasalle, highlights the lack of purpose-built student accommodation for university students in Tokyo.

It stated that 80% of Japan’s students live in private rental accommodation, however, a JLL executive believes that this is not the best option for the country’s 267,042 international students because of a language barrier and the reluctance of landlords to let to foreigners.

Asakawa said he acknowledged that the number of international students has risen (the government has set a target of 300,000 by 2020) but notes that the largest rise is from the non-university sector, including language students.

“I think the increase of students – both undergraduate and graduate – will continue to be modest because it is rather difficult to have enough Japanese language ability to cope with university education for many international students other than Chinese, who have the knowledge of Chinese characters,” he added.

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