Japan to Clamp Down on Illegal Employment of Foreign Students, Visa Overstayers: Strengthen Japanese Language School Standards

The Japanese government will significantly tighten accreditation requirements for Japanese language schools in an effort to prevent illegal employment of foreign students and visa overstayers.

Currently, the government revokes accreditation for language schools where over half of admitted foreign students in a one-year period have been found to overstay their student visas. Starting this month, the government will tighten this number to 30 per cent. The overall policy goals are to weed out low-quality Japanese language schools and to alleviate growing concerns about public safety related to illegal employment of visa overstayers.

Backdoor to working in Japan

Some Japanese language schools act as a backdoor way for foreigners to enter Japan with the motive of overstaying their student visa in order to find long-term, full-time work. On the employer side, Japan faces a severe labor shortage and many companies are desperate to fill vacancies for entry-level and lower-wage workers.

Visa Overstayers

As of January this year, the government counted about 4,700 visa overstayers who entered Japan on a student visa but who did not leave Japan once their visa expired. This is an increase of about 70 per cent compared to five years ago.

While most Japanese language schools in Japan are legitimate enterprises, a certain number accept foreign students with a wink and a nod to the fact that their real motive is to find work and stay long-term in Japan illegally. The government’s decision to tighten accreditation standards (by penalizing schools with a high percentage of visa overstayers) is to close this back door to unauthorized immigration.

As of April 2019, there were about 750 Japanese language schools catering to foreign students. This is a an increase of 100 schools compared to 2018.

What about the new Specified Skills Visa?

On April 1st, 2019, Japan made a historic change to its immigration policy by officially opening the doors to significant numbers of lower-skilled workers through two new residency visa statuses. Over the next five years, two Specified Skills Visas will allow about 345,000 foreign workers into the country, in 14 industries, as part of an effort to alleviate severe labor shortages.

However, convenience stores and the retail sector in general, for example are not covered under the new residency visas, and foreign students continue to be in high demand as part-time workers. An NLI Research Institute report has found that about 7% of the 35,000 people working at 7-11 convenience stores throughout Japan are of foreign origin.

Foreigners living in Japan on a student visa need special permission from the Immigration Bureau to work. Those who receive approval to work can do so for a maximum of 28-hours a week.

Tightening standards for Japanese language learning

The government will also place stricter requirements on the quality of teaching at Japanese language schools.

The government will use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) as the basis for evaluating whether Japanese language schools are providing a sufficiently high level of instruction to their students.

The CEFR is an international language proficiency guideline widely used in Europe, and increasingly elsewhere, to assess non-native speakers’ proficiency for studying and working in another language.  It is divided into six levels from A1 (“beginner”) to C2 (“near native”).

A student passing level A2 (the second to lowest level) can:

  • Understand frequently used expressions in most intermediate areas such as shopping, family, employment, etc.
  • Complete tasks that are routine and involve a direct exchange of information.
  • Describe matters of immediate need in simple terms.

The government will revoke licenses of  language schools where 70 percent of graduated students fail to achieve at least level A2 competency over a three-year consecutive period.

Making sure students are actually enrolled – Enforcement on the employer-side

The government will also step up enforcement to make sure that students are actually attending school.

As mentioned above, if you are in Japan on a student visa you need permission from the Immigration Bureau to “engage in activities other than those permitted” under a student visa. This means that student-visa holders can work a maximum of 28- hours a week at a part-time job.

The government will inform employers of students who have received special permission to work and if they fail to attend at least 50 percent of their classes in a one-month period, the government will report the employer to the Regional Immigration Bureau.

News source: Nikkei, June 6, 2019

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Lead image: Interior of a convenience store in Japan, via Wikimedia