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Is it difficult to immigrate to Japan? Myths debunked.

Updated: Jun 17

Japan's street

When considering immigration and working in Japan, a frequent topic of discussion is the following image of Japan:

Moving to Japan is extremely difficult
Japan is cold to refugees
Japan is negative towards immigration of foreigners

This article will analyze the difficulty of immigrating and working in Japan from the perspective of obtaining residency qualifications, as well as global discourse on Japan's immigration policies, as experienced by members of the Jelper Club. We will explore the realities and considerations of the situation.


*Please note that this article is based solely on information derived from public data, and our company cannot assume any legal responsibility for events arising from this article. For legal advice, please contact a law firm or administrative scrivener's office.


Working in Japan as Foreigners - Categories


Under Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, foreigners (non-Japanese nationals) can work in Japan in the following ways:


1. Those permitted to reside for work purposes ("Specialist in Humanities/International Services", "Engineer", etc.)

2. Those residing based on their status ("Long-term Resident" (mainly Nikkei), "Permanent Resident", "Spouse of a Japanese National", etc.)

3. Specific activities (Technical Intern Training, candidates for foreign nurse and caregiver under EPA, domestic employees employed by diplomats, Working Holiday, etc.)

4. Activities outside of qualifications (part-time jobs for students, etc.)


Considering the full-time employment trends of Jelper Club members, the majority fall into the 1 mentioned above, so this article will focus primarily on category 1.



Those Permitted to Reside for Work Purposes*1


To be eligible for residency in Japan for employment purposes, it is necessary to work in a job that falls under the so-called "Specialized and Technical Fields." These fields are divided into three categories: "University Graduate White-Collar Workers and Engineers", "advanced professional occupations", and "occupations utilizing unique or specialized abilities of foreigners." The main residency qualifications for each of these are as follows:


Figure 1: Breakdown of Occupations in "Specialized and Technical Fields"

Breakdown of Occupations in "Specialized and Technical Fields"

Among these, the categories most applicable to Jelper Club members working in Japan as new graduates are "Engineering" and "Humanities/Knowledge." The specific requirements for obtaining these are as follows:


The job to be undertaken must fall under one of the following, with the necessary knowledge acquired:


  • Graduation from a university, majoring in a relevant subject, or having received education equivalent to or higher than that.

  • Completion of a specialized course at a vocational school in Japan, provided it meets the criteria set by the Minister of Justice.

  • Having over 10 years of practical experience, including time spent studying the relevant subject at university, technical college, high school, upper secondary school, or vocational school.

Thus, even as a new graduate, if one can work in a field related to their university major, they can qualify under "Engineering" or "Humanities/Knowledge" and be eligible to work in Japan.

It should be noted that while there are no Japanese language requirements for "Engineering" or "Humanities/Knowledge," certain language proficiency may be considered for jobs requiring Japanese (like sales). However, for jobs that do not require Japanese, such as engineering, Japanese language ability is rarely a factor. Therefore, foreigners with limited Japanese language skills may find it easier to obtain work permits in Japan if they seek employment in fields like engineering, where Japanese is not required.



Certificate of Eligibility (Working Status) Approval Rate


So, how easy is it to obtain a work-related residence qualification? The following graph shows the approval rate for Certificate of Eligibility (residence qualification) Applications (Working Status).


Figure 2: Trends in the Number of Certificate of Eligibility Applications, Approvals, and Approval Rates from 2018 to 2022*3

Figure 2: Trends in the Number of Certificate of Eligibility Applications, Approvals, and Approval Rates from 2018 to 2022


The graph indicates that while the number of residence qualification (Working Status) has significantly decreased since 2020, the approval rate has been increasing, especially in 2021 and 2022, with around a 90% approval rate. This suggests a favorable situation for foreigners wishing to work in Japan. Although the number of processed applications for each Certificates of Eligibility is undisclosed, the approval rate for Specialized and Technical Fields is expected to be high, given Japan's current labor shortage. Due to the declining working-age population caused by a low birthrate and aging population, and the resulting labor shortage, the approval rate for Certificates of Eligibility with working status is likely to remain high in the future.



Refugee Residence Approval Rate


International experts and media have continuously criticized Japan's refugee policy. Particularly since the revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act last June, allowing for deportation after three or more refugee applications without "sufficient reason*4", there has been an increase in narratives that "Japan does not accept refugees*5".

Is the claim "Japan is cold towards refugees" true? The following figure shows the refugee residence approval rates (formal refugee recognition rates and rates for those not recognized as refugees but granted residence for humanitarian reasons) of various countries.


Figure 3: Refugee Residence Approval Rates of Six Major Countries and Japan*6

Figure 3: Refugee Residence Approval Rates of Six Major Countries and Japan

As shown, Japan has significantly increased its refugee residence approval rate since 2021, surpassing Australia and the United States in 2022, and approaching the rate of France, whose President Macron declared in June 2017 that "accepting refugees is a European tradition and honor*7". Especially for the year 2022, it is conceivable that a high proportion of refugee residence approvals was due to the acceptance of many refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Clearly, there is still room for improvement, but the narrative that "Japan is cold towards refugees" is not necessarily accurate, considering recent trends.


Summary


"Is it difficult to immigrate to Japan?"


The answer is "No".


Firstly, the difficulty for foreigners working in Japan, in terms of obtaining residence qualifications, is not particularly high. Especially for students with high specialization in specific areas, like Jelper Club members, it is relatively easy to obtain residence qualifications if they find employment in their field of expertise.


Regarding the acceptance of refugees, while there are still challenges, Japan has become more lenient in granting residence qualifications to refugees compared to the past. The claim that "Japan is cold towards refugees" is not necessarily correct in the current situation.


Of course, there are various perspectives and opinions regarding the facts presented in this article. However, as immigration to Japan is not difficult from a systemic standpoint, we believe that readers who feel there are hurdles in the system become considering immigrating to Japan with confidence.


At Jelper Club, we're here to support you every step of the way for your career development in Japan. Our platform connects ambitious students from top universities worldwide with exclusive internship and full-time job opportunities in Japan with a variety of Japanese proficiency requirements. We also provide access to practical information, member-only events, and a professional community of like-minded individuals.

 

If you're ready to embark on your own Japanese adventure, visit Jelper Club today and discover how we can help you unlock your potential in Japan.




(Editor: Jelper Club Editorial Team)




 

Sources and Notes


1. "Categories of Foreign Nationals Working in Japan (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)": https://www.mhlw.go.jp/bunya/koyou/gaikokujin16/


2. For international business, one must have at least three years of practical experience in the relevant business field (not necessary for translation, interpretation, or language teaching). Therefore, it does not necessarily apply to Jelper Club members who typically join as new graduates, hence excluded from the above.


3. "Immigration Control Statistics: Entry and Residence Control, Residence Qualification Certification, Deportation Procedures, etc." (Immigration Services Agency); "Recent Situation Surrounding Immigration Control" (Ministry of Justice); Approval Rate for Certificate of Eligibility (excluding Non-Working Status) = Number of Certificates of Eligibility Approved (Excluding Non-Working Status) ÷ Number of Applications Processed for Certificates of Eligibility (Excluding Non-Working Status); As the number of recipients for each work qualification is undisclosed, it is assumed for non-working qualifications that the number of Certificates of Eligibility (Non-Working Status) recipients = Number of Applications Processed for Certificates of Eligibility (Non-Working Status). The number of recipients for non-working qualifications such as cultural activities, study, training, family stay, specified activities, spouse of a Japanese national, spouse of a permanent resident, and long-term resident are then excluded from the total number of Applications Processed for Certificates of Eligibility.


4. "Amended Immigration Law passed in the House of Councillors, allowing deportation after the third refugee application" (Asahi Shimbun DIGITAL): https://www.asahi.com/articles/ASR694FPJR50UTIL04C.html


5. "Japan is making asylum even harder for refugees" (The Economist): https://www.economist.com/asia/2023/06/28/japan-is-making-asylum-even-harder-for-refugees


6. Refer to each year's press releases by the Immigration Services Agency for refugee recognition numbers, etc.; "Refugee Data Finder" (UNHCR): https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=F339Ti; For Japan, data from the Immigration Services Agency is used, while for other countries, UNHCR data is referenced; Japan's Refugee Residence Approval Rate = (Foreign nationals recognized as refugees + foreign nationals not recognized as refugees but granted residence for humanitarian reasons) / (Number of refugee recognition applicants + review requests (appeals)); Refugee Residence Approval Rate for countries other than Japan = (Number of Recognized decisions + Number of Complementary protection) / Number of Total Decisions


7. "Dignity and the “Migrant and Refugee Crisis” in France: Analyzing the Politics of Framing the “Migrant-Refugee” Concept and its Shift"(Chikako Mori):https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/kantoh/2019/32/2019_34/_pdf

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