The Immigration Services Agency of Japan has made public that as of April, it plans to apply stricter standards for student visa applications submitted by nationals of eighty countries in an effort to deal with the growing issue of visa overstayers. This would be one of the biggest rule changes applied by the agency in the last thirty years.
The stricter standards are currently applied to citizens of seven countries. The change in immigration rules is meant to make it more difficult for people to enter Japan under the pretext of studying, but with the intent of overstaying their visa to settle in Japan and work. As Japan faces a major labor shortage, the Immigration Services Agency is working to promote greater employment of foreigners under the Specified Skills Visa, which was introduced in April 2019.
Current situation: Stricter standards for 7 designated countries
Currently, student visa applicants from seven countries are required to submit additional documentation when they apply:
- China (excluding Hong Kong and other select regions in China)
- Viet Nam
- Sri Lanka
The immigration services agency requires applicants from these countries to submit a number of additional documents with their application for a student visa. Nationals from these countries are also subject to stricter screening, in general:
- Certificate/diploma showing the highest level of education attained.
- Documentation showing bank account balances of relatives in their home country who will be providing them with financial support while they are studying in Japan.
- Documentation proving the student’s relationship to their parents/relatives.
Issue of Visa Overstayers
Not all visa overstayers who entered Japan on a student visa are from the seven countries designated for stricter screening.
As of the beginning of 2019, there were about 4,700 people residing in Japan who had overstayed their student visa. In 2015, this number was about 2,800, an increase of about 1.7-times.
The majority of overstayers overall (not just from the student visa category) come from just three countries: Viet Nam (3,065), China (1,074), South Korea (148).
List of 80 countries designated for stricter screening
For the April rule change, the immigration services agency created a list of 118 countries where economic conditions are relatively good, so that the chances of students overstaying their visa in order to work are lower.
Applicants from a separate list of 80 countries designated for stricter screening, however, will have to submit additional document (as described above).
The biggest change is that student visa applicants from China will no longer be required to submit additional documentation.
Student visa holders in Japan are allowed to work up to 28-hours a week and according to Ministry of Labor statistics, about half of them do part-time work. They currently account for about 19% of a total of about 318,000 foreign workers in Japan.
Stricter visa screening could have a significant effect on the retail and restaurant sectors, where employers rely heavily on student workers.
The countries below have been designated by the immigration services agency for stricter student visa screening as of April 2020:
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central Africa
- Cook Islands
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- East Timor
- El Salvador
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Ivory Coast
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of the Congo
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Islands
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
- Viet Nam
Source: Nikkei newspaper, February 9, 2020