Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional Visa for Japan: How and Why to Apply

The Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa is a working visa designed to attract highly-skilled professionals (scientists, engineers, lawyers, and business executives, among others) to come work in Japan by giving them preferential visa processing and residency benefits.

In the past few years, it has been the fastest growing status-of-residence category among visas issued by the immigration agency, but in terms of absolute numbers, it is still one of the smaller categories. In 2018, there were 10,745 Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (i) visas issued (not counting the visas for accompanying family members, a year-on-year growth of 43.3%. Over 90% of these visas were issued to foreign nationals from Asian countries, but the Japanese government is eager to increase the number of all highly-skilled foreign professionals in Japan.

Below we give an overview of the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa and why you should consider applying for this residency status, if you qualify.

  • Overview
  • Preferential treatment
  • Categories of activities
  • Who can apply for this visa?
  • Application process

Overview

The purpose of the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional Visa is to make it easier for “highly-skilled” foreigners to come work and live in Japan by giving them preferential immigration treatment and residency conditions. This points-based system for evaluating whether someone qualifies as a highly-skilled professional was introduced on May 7, 2012.

Goals

The Japanese government is actively trying to promote the immigration of people 1) who have “quality, unsubstitutable” skills that are complementary to those of the domestic labor force and 2) who will bring innovation to Japanese industries through friendly competition in order to increase the efficiency of Japanese labor markets. Source: Concept of Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals, Immigration Services Agency of Japan)

There are two levels of Highly-Skilled Professional visas:

  • Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (i)
  • Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (ii)

The Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (i) visa is the “entry-level” status.

You can qualify to apply for the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (ii) visa after you have engaged in activities under the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (i) visa for three years or more. The Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional (ii) visa gives you all the benefits of the (i) visa, plus an indefinite period of stay.

First, let’s go over the benefits of the (i) visa.

Preferential Treatment

The Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa comes with a number of benefits that distinguish it from a regular working visa.

  1. Permission to engage in multiple activities in Japan
    1. Under other visa statuses, you are only allowed to engage in activities under a single status-of-residence. For example, if you’re in Japan on a student visa, you need to obtain permission from immigration authorities if you want to get a part-time job. However, with a Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa, you are allowed, for example, to engage in research activities at a university and simultaneously run a business related to your research.
  2. 5-Year period of stay
    1. This is the longest period of stay granted under any other visa status, so it is a major perk of the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa.
    2. When the 5-year period expires, you can apply to extend your visa.
  3. Easing of requirements for Permanent Residence
    1. In principle, to qualify for Permanent Residency, you have to stay in Japan continuously for ten years or more.
    2. However, if you have engaged in activities under the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa for just 3 years, you are eligible to apply for Permanent Residency,
    3. If you are a “particularly skilled” professional (meaning that you score 80-points or more on the scoring sheet [as will be discussed below]), you will be eligible to apply for Permanent Residency after just 1 year of activities under the Highly-Skilled Professional visa.
  4. Permission for your spouse to work
    1. Usually, when you come to Japan on a regular work visa, such as an “Instructor”, “Engineer” or “Specialist in Humanities/International Services” visa, your spouse will accompany you under a “Spouse” visa, which only allows them to work part-time. If he or she wants to work full-time, your spouse would have to change to a work visa, including meeting the academic and work experience requirements for the visa change.
    2. However, with the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa, your accompanying spouse is allowed to work, even if he or she does not have the required academic background or work experience.
  5. Permission for your parent(s) to accompany you
    1. Your parent(s) are not allowed to accompany you when you come to Japan on any other type of work visa.
    2. However, with the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa, your parent(s), including non-biological parents, can accompany you to Japan subject to the following main conditions:
      1. Your total annual household income (including your spouse’s) is at least ¥8 million.
      2. Your parents live with you.
      3. Parents are limited to your parents or your spouse’s parents
      4. The parent(s) will be taking care of your (or your spouse’s) child who is younger than 7-years old OR
      5. The parent(s) will be taking care of a pregnant highly-skilled foreign professional or to a pregnant spouse of a highly-skilled foreign professional.
  6. Permission for a domestic worker to accompany you
    1. Under most visa statuses (except for the “Investor/Business Manager” and “Legal/Accounting Services” visas), you are not allowed to employ a domestic worker.
    2. However, a highly-skilled foreign professional may bring a foreign domestic worker to Japan subject to certain conditions.
  7.  Preferential processing of entry and residence procedures
    1. Usually, processing of a visa application in Japan takes a minimum of two to four weeks.
    2. Applications for entry and renewals of the highly-skilled foreign application is done on an expedited basis.
    3. Applications for preliminary immigration examination (issuance of a Certificate of Eligibility) are processed within 10 days of receipt; and applications for status of residence (issuance of a visa) are processed within 5 days of receipt.

Categories of Activities

There are three categories under which you can qualify for the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa. These are:

  • Advanced academic research activities (i)
    • Research, research guidance or education based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan.
  • Advanced specialized/technical activities (ii)
    • Work requiring specialized knowledge or skills in the field of natural sciences or humanities based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan.
  • Advanced business management activities (iii)
    • Operation or management of a public or private organization in Japan.

Who can apply for this visa?

Point Evaluation System

Qualification to apply for the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa is based on a point evaluation system.

The immigration agency will evaluate your application by adding up points awarded on the basis of your academic background, years of professional experience, annual salary, as well as various categories of bonus points for such things research achievements, professional certifications (such as a U.S. Certified Public Accountant (CPA)  or a Japanese national qualification related to your field of work), and Japanese language ability (N2 or N1 on the Japanese Language Proficiency Test).

You need a minimum of 70-points to apply for the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa.

The table below shows how points are calculated.

Point calculation table for the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa application. Click on the image to go to the official PDF version of this document. Source: Japan Immigration Services Agency

There are certain qualifications and awards that give you bonus points (links to official PDF) and Japanese language proficiency levels that are beneficial to scoring (links to PDF)

Who can apply and from where?

  • You can apply for this visa from overseas to enter Japan to work.
    • If you are overseas, submit your application to the nearest Consulate.
  • You can also apply from Japan if you are currently working here under another visa status or are currently on a student visa.
    • If you are in Japan, submit your application to the nearest immigration office.

Application Process

The application process for the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa is similar to the application for any visa to come to Japan or to change your status-of-residence (if you’re already in Japan on another visa), but processing is much faster (within 10 days).

  1. Step 1: Apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) and Submit a Point Calculation Form
    1. This page on the official Immigration Services Agency official site explains how to apply for a COE.
    2. When you submit your COE, you must also submit a Point Calculation Form and documents supporting why you have the required number of points. Go to this page and scroll to the bottom for a sample Excel sheet you can use to calculate your points
  2. Step 2: Evaluation by Regional Immigration Bureau
    1. If you pass the evaluation, you will be issued a Certificate of Eligibility.
    2. If you aren’t issued a COE, you may not apply for the visa.
  3. Step 3: Apply for your visa
    1. Submit your COE with your visa application.
    2. Once you receive your visa, you have permission to come work in Japan.

If you are already working in Japan on another visa or are a student in Japan

You can apply to change from another status-of-residence to the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa.

Submit a Point Calculation Form and supporting documents to the Regional Immigration Bureau for evaluation along with your application to change your status-of-residence (The link will take you to the official page on the Immigration Services Agency site).

If you want to extend your period of stay

If you already have this visa and want to extend your period of stay, submit a Point Calculation Form and supporting documents to the Regional Immigration Bureau for evaluation. Submit these documents with your application to extend your period of stay (The link will take you to the official page on the Immigration Services Agency site).

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If you want to learn more about the Highly-Skilled Foreign Professional visa, visit our Seminar page for a list of upcoming (free) seminars on how to apply for long-term work visas in Japan, as well as how to apply for Permanent Residency. Free, no obligation consultations are available by appointment.


Source: Official Points-Based Preferential Treatment for Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals (Official Site of the Japan Immigration Services Agency)