Amid a continually declining demographic, on Friday, the Japanese government updated its immigration rules with the hope of attracting talented individuals to its workforce. Under the new rules, high-earning professionals will no longer have to wait to obtain permanent residency.
Japan, like many Western countries, already grants visas to highly-skilled professionals using a point-based system that accounts for such factors as educational background, work experience, and research accomplishments. People who fall into this category can obtain permanent residency after 3 years, rather than having to wait the typical 10 years. However, under the updated laws, which should be implemented in April, the 3 year period will be shortened to 1 year for engineers and researchers who make at least 20 million yen ($149,000) annually, and have either a graduate degree or at least 10 years of work experience. The shortened wait time would also apply to business managers who make at least 40 million yen and have a minimum of 5 years of work experience.
In addition to waiving the longer wait times, the new rules would allow each professional to bring 2 foreign domestic workers with them to Japan, instead of only one under the current laws. The professionals would also be permitted to bring their spouses, who will then be eligible to work full-time in a wider variety of fields.
According to Nikkei, from January to June of last year, there were 3,275 people classified as highly skilled professionals, and only 783 of them were recent arrivals to the country.
The updated laws would also give elite university graduates the opportunity to stay in Japan for 2 years in order to look for work, as opposed to the 90 days they currently have to find a job. The rule would apply to those who graduated in the last 5 years from a university in at least 2 of 3 top - 100 rankings established by British and Chinese entities. Those graduates would be able to bring their families as well.
Japan is just one of several countries competing to attract skilled workers capable of spurring innovation. In 2022, the U.K. launched the two-year High Potential Individual visa, which is given to graduates of top-ranked universities. Singapore launched the Tech.Pass in 2021, which allows technology workers who have been earning at least 20,000 Singapore dollars ($15,000) a month to work or start a business in the country.
Lawyer Koji Yamawaki said, "factors beyond immigration qualifications, like having lower wages compared with the U.S. and Europe, pose a bigger challenge for Japan." Average pay in the IT industry in Japan only reached $40,000 in 2022, according to the human resources company, Human Resocia, which is based in Tokyo. The Japanese average amounts to half of the U.S. average and about 70 percent of the German average.
Japan also only ranked 25 out o f35 countries that were found to be attractive to highly educated workers in a 2019 ranking done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The country ranked particularly low in "quality of opportunities" and "family environment."
Another issue facing Japan and the updated immigration policy is that the majority of the applicants for the skilled-professional visa are already living in Japan on different student or work visas. Not only does Japan need to attract more foreign talent, but it also needs to help foreigners already living in the country advance their careers. However, Japan has a culture of not welcoming foreign workers, which will make it all but impossible to advance the careers of foreign workers, regardless of their skill level.
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