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Japan: record work permits granted as market rebalances

The number of international graduates who received permission to work in Japan has continued to grow, with 22,419 work permits granted in 2017, but there are signs of a market rebalance as the effects of recent work rights changes wait to kick in.

The number of international grads who are working in Japan has increased. Photo: Gianni ScognamiglioThe number of international grads who are working in Japan has increased. Photo: Gianni Scognamiglio

Despite the sector's declining grant rates, the number of vocational students who received permits increased

“Japanese companies rely on international graduates”

Released by the Ministry of Justice, the figure is a new record for the number of international graduates allowed to work and saw a 15.4% growth from 2016, a jump just short of 3,000 additional permits.

Japan Student Services Organisation’s information services division deputy director Tomohiro Miyai welcomed the new figures and said the increasing numbers would lead to benefits for both students and Japan’s economy.

“In Japan, the employment of international students is a very important issue,” he said, adding that wider society had increased its understanding of students entering the workforce as birth rates continue to decline in country.

“I’m not sure how long this trend [will] last, but… Japanese companies rely on international graduates as an important asset.”

Speaking with The PIE News, Miyai added the growing numbers would also positively impact the number of international students choosing Japan, as post-study work opportunities are increasingly part of the destination decision.

However, grant rates continued their decline for a second year and growth by nationality was patchy.

Rates sunk to 80.3%, a drop of 8.5% from 2016, and their lowest point in over a decade – after hitting 86.6% in 2005.

According to a MoJ official quoted by Japanese paper, The Mainichi, the declining rate was due to an increased number of vocational graduates seeking work. Until recently, vocational school graduates were required to find a position related to their field of study.

“There are some cases where what the students have studied does not match their work,” the official said.

“Vocational schools will be even more pleased”

Despite the decline in grant rates, however, the number of vocational students who received post-study work increased, strengthening its position to overtake master’s degrees as the second largest sector to receive permits at almost 22%.

The total number of vocational graduates and the overall grant rate may also increase further, as the MoJ opened employment rules to any international graduate in a role earning above a 3m yen salary threshold.

“People working in vocational schools will be even more pleased [over the threshold] than me,” observed Hiroshi Ota of the Center for Global Education at Hitotsubashi University.

“Foreign vocational graduates are currently [required] to find a job related to what they studied. It has been criticised for constraining job seekers’ options.”

JASSO’s Miyai said the threshold, which will be accessible to the spring 2019 graduating group, should further increase the number of graduates receiving post-study work.

The nationality balance also saw some reshuffling, as China lost market share and Nepal overtook South Korea for the third largest source of graduate workers.

Overall, permits to graduates from China decreased by 6.5%, meaning the country no longer represented over half of all permits granted, while the second largest nationality, Vietnam, increased 86.2% to represent more than a fifth of the market.

Japan hosted 267,042 international students in 2017 and aims to increase to 300,000 by 2020.

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