Living in Japan

How I Switched from a Student Visa to a Designated Activities Visa: And Found a Job in Japan

Congratulations! You’ve diligently put in your time, passed your exams and are about to graduate from a Japanese university with degree in hand. Now you’re ready to start “real life”! Unfortunately, your student visa is about to expire and you haven’t quite found a job yet. You just need a little more time to start or continue your job search in Japan. This is, in fact, not an uncommon situation.

Fortunately, there is a relatively simple visa change procedure that allows Student Visa holders to change to a Designated (Job Search) Activities visa. With a Designated Activities visa, you will be given a six-month period-of-stay in order to look for a job, with the possibility to apply for an additional six-month extension if you can document that you are actively conducting a job search.

Real Estate Japan recently conducted an interview with Exwin Tan, a graduate of Tokyo Keizai University, on his experience studying at a Japanese university and how he found a job in Japan after graduating and switching to a Designated Activities visa, in order to conduct his job search.

1. Could you tell us a little about yourself, your experience studying at a Japanese university, and your initial job search?

First, I want to say that everyone’s situation is different and my background and experience, of course, doesn’t apply to every foreign student’s situation in Japan.

I am Malaysian and came to Japan in 2011 to study at a Japanese language school. In 2012, I started uni at Tokyo Keizai University and majored in business administration.

What student life was like

I lived in Kokubunji near my university.

Because of my low Japanese level, I wasn’t a great student, and I actually decided to give up my studies during my second year. My GPA was only 0.79. LoL.

But I talked it over with my professor and my family and decided to give it another try and to enjoy university life. So I started to gather other foreign students and create events such as bowling, karaoke, and hiking at Mt. Takao.

Starting from that, both foreign students and Japanese students joined me. My Japanese improved, and I also founded the foreign students club.

My grades improved a lot, too. My GPA went from 0.79 to 2.75. I applied for a scholarship, and my university life started over from there.

I also figured out what I wanted to study and decided to further my studies in the masters program.

Why I had to apply for a Designated Activities Visa

Usually a Japanese university will require all seniors (fourth-year students) to participate in job hunting events during their final year. I didn’t participate because I was planning to pursue a masters degree after graduation. I had already passed the exam to enter the masters program and had already set up my research topic with my professor.

However, at this point, my family told me that they didn’t have enough funds for me to study for a masters degree. I tried to extend my scholarship but had already missed the application deadline, and my scholarship organizer told me that I would have to re-apply during the first year of my masters program in order to get the scholarship back. But because of this, I didn’t have enough money to pay the enrollment fee, so I had to give up studying for a masters degree and look for a job.

At that point, it was too late for me to look for a job because I hadn’t participated in any recruiting events, which is how Japanese companies hire recent university graduates. At the same time, my student visa was about to expire. My best option was to try to switch my visa status from a Student Visa to a Designated Activities Visa.

How I helped my university and how my university supported me

The reason I said that my situation might be different than other foreign students is that as a student, I was very actively involved in helping my university. When my university found out why I needed to quickly apply for a Designated Activities visa, they helped me get the paperwork I needed.

During my time as a student, I helped my university’s international exchange office and other foreign students a lot, with things like translation and helping them with documents. I was also the founder of the foreign students club.

When I told my university that I needed help applying for a Designated Activities visa, they supported me. At my university, there were two requirements I needed to meet in order to get the paperwork I needed, an interview with the dean of the university and a letter of recommendation from my professor. I was able to get both. Other universities might have different conditions.

2. How did you go about switching visas, what documentation did you need, and how much time did it take?

To switch your visa status you have to go to to the immigration office (Immigration Bureau of Japan).

On their website, they have a list of documents you need to switch from a Student Visa to a Designated Activities Visa (in Japanese). Editor’s note: the list below applies to Japanese university graduates who are currently living in Japan on a Student Visa and who want to switch to a Job Search Activities (shushoku katsudo, 就職活動) Visa. Please note that we have provided this list only for the convenience of our readers. For the official list, please see the list on the Immigration Bureau website.

  • Application form (available at the Immigration Bureau and online)
    • The application form may require additional documents not listed here
  • Photo
  • Passport or Residence Card
  • Document certifying that you can cover your own expenses while staying in Japan
  • Document certifying your identity

If you are a graduate of a 4-year university:

  • Copy of your university diploma
  • Recommendation letter from your university stating that you are continuing your job search activities
  • Documents to show clearly that you are carrying out a job search

If you are a graduate of a vocational school:

  • Certificate showing the specialist title you received
  • Diploma or academic transcript
  • Recommendation letter from your vocational school stating that you are continuing your job search activities
  • Documents to show clearly that you are carrying out a job search
  • Documentation detailing what courses you took

The letter of recommendation in the list mentioned above (which has to be issued by your university) is not the same as the letter of recommendation that my university required me to get from my professor.

How long it took

It took me about two to three weeks to collect all the documents, including the interview I had with the dean and the letter of recommendation I had to get from my professor. At the request of my professor, I had to write a letter to him explaining why I needed a recommendation from him.

After I submitted my application, it took about one to two months for my new visa to be issued. I was given a six month period-of-stay. The Immigration Bureau told me that I would be able to extend the visa for another six months if I could document that I was actively looking for a job. They said, for example, that you can give them a copy of an e-mail conversation with a company that you are applying to. An employment agency can also issue a document showing that you are job hunting.

In my case, I was able to find a job about three months after I received my Designated Activities visa so I didn’t end up having to apply for an extension.

#3 Please describe your job hunting process. Was it stressful? How did you go about looking for a job?

It was really stressful because I had already missed the university graduate recruiting season.

I went to a lot of employment agencies and classes on how to interview for a job. I asked my friends and seniors at school to help me. I even applied to become an assistant at my university’s international exchange office, but unfortunately, none of them had a match for me.

The employment agent introduced me to more than 20 companies, but I was a little picky about it so I only applied and went to two interviews (with an IT company and a trading company).

Then I remembered GaijinPot, which I found through Facebook, when I arrived in Japan in 2011. But now my Japanese was much better and so I decided to use Career Engine (which specializes in bilingual job seekers) to look for a job.

Through Career Engine, I was able to begin life as a working adult, at Real Estate Japan. I have since moved on to another job, but that’s how I found my very first job in Japan.

Exwin Tan

Lead photo: Tokyo Keizai University