Professional visas in Japan

visa application
Updated 2022-12-21 11:50

Working in Japan is a dream for many. But is getting a work visa in the Land of the Rising Sun an easy task? It is believed that finding a job in Japan is quite challenging. For sure, the process can be long and tedious, especially since COVID. In order to fight the health crisis, Japan kept its borders closed for almost two years. The country is gradually reopening, and it is becoming possible again to consider a professional career in Japan. But under what conditions? What are the work permits available? What are the rules for applying?

Japan is gradually reopening

Students and professionals have been able to travel to Japan since March 1, 2022. For them, it is the end of a long and difficult journey, or at least the beginning of an improvement.

Because of closed borders, many foreigners had their visa applications canceled. Thousands of international students have been forced to give up on their dream of studying in Japan despite their eligibility certificate, or to opt for an online solution which was not always adequate (courses according to Japanese time, with a significant time gap sometimes, as for European countries). It was the same headache for workers and trainees whose employment offers had been withdrawn.

On June 10, Japan authorized the arrival of tourist groups with a visa (now mandatory, regardless of the duration of the stay). It is, of course, strictly forbidden to work with a tourist visa. Professionals see in this new flexibility a further step towards the normalization of international exchanges and a total reopening of the borders.

The different types of professional visas in Japan

You can work in Japan with 4 main types of visas: the work visa, the spouse visa, the student visa and the working working holiday visa (WHV). These visas are intended for long stays of more than 90 days.

Visas for teaching jobs

  • Professor: reserved for positions in universities
  • Instructor: reserved for positions in public education

Research and engineering professions

  • Engineer: concerns all jobs in new technologies and engineering.
  • Researcher
  • Humanities expert: focuses on various sectors, from legal expertise to translation, international relations or economics.

Specific work sectors

  • Medical professions: the candidate must have a license to work in Japan
  • Legal professions: the candidate must have a work license in Japan
  • Transfer: the case of a person transferred to Japan. They are still employed by a company based abroad that holds a branch office in Japan.
  • Skilled labor: the applicant's skills must be recognized in Japan. It is advised to graduate from a Japanese technical school (senmon gakkô) or to justify a solid experience (10 years).

Visas for other activities

  • Investor: targets all entrepreneurs, startups in Japan, or managers of foreign firms.
  • Journalist
  • Artist: the artist must be able to justify regular income allowing them to live in Japan. The latter must be able to show his production (literary work, painting, music, dance, etc.)

What professional visas allow you to do in Japan

These renewable visas enable the holder to obtain a residence permit for a period of a few months to one year and work in Japan. It is mandatory to carry out the professional activity registered on the visa. If you have been sponsored by a company to work in Japan, your work permit will be attached to your job description.

Highly Skilled Professional Work Visa

Created in 2012, as the name suggests, this visa concerns highly qualified experts. It was introduced by the government in order to attract foreign talent and to become more competitive on the international scene. While Canada and the United States have long been known for their international talent recruitment programs, Japan is still considered a confidential destination. With this visa, the country targets the elite. It is reserved for 3 job categories:

  • Academic research at the expert level (and thus, different from the researcher or teacher visa).
  • Rare technical expertise, specialization in a particular field (more advanced expertise than required for the engineer visa).
  • Management and leadership expert, business manager, finance expert, advanced knowledge of the corporate world, international market (more advanced expertise than required for the investor visa).

The highly qualified professional visa is the most advantageous. It is valid for 5 years, unlike the other visas, which are usually limited to one or three years. The Highly Skilled Professional Visa gives access to permanent residence within 1 to 3 years, and the immigration procedure is faster than for other visas. Family reunification is also allowed, and unlike with other general visas, it is also possible to carry out other professional activities in addition to the one mentioned on the work permit.

There are therefore many advantages to this visa, but few applicants. This is because of its numerous requirements, which make it very restrictive and difficult to obtain.

The Specified Skilled Worker Visa (Tokutei ginou)

Introduced in 2019, these visas are supposed to address the labor shortage in Japan. The Japanese government has plans to bring in 500,000 employees by 2025. There are 2 types of Specific Skilled Worker visas: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 is limited to 5 years, is non-renewable, and does not allow family reunification. Type 2 is renewable and allows family reunification.

Both visas are simplified, and it is not necessary to speak Japanese well. A JLPT N4 is enough. Indeed, the work visas recommend, in principle, to have a good level of Japanese. The foreigner must pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, an international exam, and obtain at least level 2, which corresponds to an advanced intermediate level. This level 2 (N2) is required by most companies to work in Japan. They can also ask for the superior level, the N1, which corresponds to a bilingual level. But the specified skilled worker visas only require a level 4, which corresponds to the false beginner level.

Specified Skilled Worker Visas: A highly controversial visa

The Specified Skilled Worker Visa is intended for specific sectors that are under pressure, like nursing, personal assistance, agriculture, construction, maintenance, food industry, amongst others. But these new visas are somewhat controversial. Critics fear the exploitation of workers with more precarious status than others. Foreigners with these visas are cheap labor for sometimes unscrupulous companies. Scandals have already broken out, implicating company managers who did not respect labor laws. Without resources and speaking poor Japanese, foreigners are more likely to be exploited.

The Student Visa for Japan

You can take advantage of your studies in Japan to work within the limit of 28 hours per week. It is strictly forbidden to work in the nightlife sector, however. Many students opt for a baito, a small job in mini-markets, or restaurants, for example. It is a good way to learn Japanese while discovering the Japanese labor market. You can also take advantage of your studies to follow business programs, which will prepare you for your future career in Japan. In this case, your school can connect you with partner companies. The latter could sponsor you at the end of your studies. This is indeed an ideal way to start your career in Japan, but of course, you can always look for a company on your own to hire you.

The Internship Visa for Japan

In this particular case, everything will depend on the details of your internship. Will you be paid? What will be the duration of your stay? Is it an academic exchange organized between your institution and your sponsor in Japan? If the request comes from your university, it will establish a tripartite internship agreement, linking the university, the Japanese employer and you.

The Working Holiday Visa for Japan

The Working Holiday Visa (WHV) is granted to young people aged between 18 and 30, allowing them to live and work in Japan for one year. The Japanese WHV is only available to nationals of countries that have signed the WHV agreement with Japan. That includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, South Korea, Germany, United Kingdom, Denmark, Ireland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Portugal, Norway, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Iceland, Czech Republic and Lithuania.

Like the student visa, the WHV allows you to work 28 hours per week. Be sure to respect the balance between holidays and work in the program you submitted to Japanese immigration. Your objective, which basically should be to discover Japan and, if necessary, to work to be able to cater to your needs during the vacation, must be clearly stated. If the reasons for your trip are not clear, the Japanese authorities may refuse to grant you a residence permit.

The Permanent Residence Visa for Japan

The permanent residence visa allows foreigners to live and work in Japan on a regular basis without restrictions. The requirements for obtaining this visa differ depending on the applicant's occupation. In most cases, it is for anyone who has lived in Japan for at least 3 to 5 years.

The Spouse Visa for Japan

The spouse visa is another type of permanent residence visa. It allows you to work in Japan without any particular conditions. There are no restrictions in terms of working hours. It is possible to work in any sector. It concerns two categories of people:

  • Those married to a Japanese national and have stayed in Japan with their spouse for at least one year.
  • Those married to a Japanese national and have lived abroad with their spouse for at least three years.

Do I have to speak Japanese to get a work visa?

Although the JLPT is not required for studying in Japan, it is required for getting hired. The main reason is that the JLPT measures your level and understanding of Japanese. Be sure you have at least level 2 (N2, upper intermediate level). More and more companies are seeking level 1 (L1, expert). Many foreigners dream of a professional career in Japan, but the competition is tough, and the number of places is limited. Put all the chances on your side and learn Japanese, if possible, even before you travel,to Japan. Even if you work for an international company, speaking Japanese will facilitate your integration.

The Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) in Japan

The certificate of eligibility attests that a visa application is in progress. Your company or sponsor will be the one issuing the document. Without it, you cannot proceed with your application. Once you have obtained the CoE, go to the embassy to apply for a work visa.

How to look for a job in Japan?

If you are applying from your country, consult the many job websites. The best thing though is to be on spot already, so as to be immediately operational if the employer wishes to interview you. Interview procedures can be very long (5, 6, or more interviews, spread over several weeks). These procedures often differ depending on the activity. Consider the possible geographical constraint when you apply for a job in Japan.

If you speak Japanese, do your research in Japanese. You will have access to offers that do not appear on foreign websites. Moreover, some job websites may not be accessible from your country.

Join professional clubs, forums, and media that are active in Japan. Some activities have very active networks. Join them to have access to their services.

Japan is an elitist country. If your degree comes from a university with a good international reputation, promote it.

Getting a Work Visa for Japan: Additional Tips

Ideally, take advantage of the first moments of your stay to discover your new host city and take care of formalities such as opening a Japanese bank account, getting a phone and internet, etc.

Take the time to get all the information you need about professional activities in Japan, the working conditions and labor standards, etc. These usually vary from one country to another. Getting information beforehand will allow you to better choose your status when applying for a visa.

Do not hesitate to seek advice from Japanese immigration services when applying for your visa. For the WHV, for example, they can check your program and advise you.

Apply for your visa the earliest possible (usually 6 months for a student visa). The Covid pandemic has lengthened the processing time. Many people, like you, are looking to move to Japan, so you need to have the right timing. Check regularly the information on the website of your embassy.

Feeling blue? Remember the reasons that motivated your choice of moving to Japan. Weigh your emotions. Talk with other expatriates, meet locals, and do activities. Enjoy your new life in Japan.

Useful link:

Immigration to Japan

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