General framework

Legislation

What primary and secondary legislation governs immigration in your jurisdiction?

The primary legislation that governs immigration in Japan is the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. The purpose of the Act is to provide for equitable control over the entry into or departure from Japan of all persons, and to consolidate the procedures for recognition of refugee status. It is supported by the Ministry of Justice’s ministerial decrees and cabinet orders, and other ministerial decrees.

International agreements

Has your jurisdiction concluded any international agreements affecting immigration (eg, free trade agreements or free movement accords)?

In conjunction with the recent introduction of two new residence statuses in April 2019, the Japanese government has agreed on memoranda of cooperation with the Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Vietnam. These memoranda outline support provided by the government to nationals of these specific countries who apply for ‘specified skilled worker (i)’ or ‘specified skilled worker (ii)’ status, to provide them with the necessary skills for working in Japan.

Regulatory authorities

Which government authorities regulate immigration and what is the extent of their enforcement powers? Can the decisions of these authorities be appealed?

Immigration laws are regulated by the Japanese Diet and the Ministerial Decree is regulated by the Ministry of Justice. The Immigration Services Agency under the Ministry of Justice has the authority to review all the application forms related to immigration matters. The decisions of these authorities generally cannot be appealed except for applications for refugee status. Instructions for appeal are typically provided when each case is finalised.

Government policy

In broad terms what is your government’s policy towards business immigration?

The Japanese government has been open to the internationalisation and globalisation of Japan by accepting foreign nationals in professional and technical fields in the hope of bringing vigour and vitality to domestic industry. In recent years, against the background of a serious decline in the population as a result of the declining birth rate and the ageing demographic in Japan, it has been viewed as a necessity to proactively accept foreign talent that can bring value to the Japanese labour market and society. The Japanese government is taking the following measures and coordinating a strategy to create a system of integrating foreign talent into society and views this as a key issue in future policy making:

  • the acceptance of a foreign workforce that would contribute to economic growth in Japan; and
  • on 7 May 2012, a preferential system was introduced, which adopts a points-based system for highly qualified professionals, such as:
    • researchers, scientists and college professors in the academic research field;
    • doctors and lawyers possessing advanced qualifications, specialised knowledge and skills in highly professional, highly technical fields, and engineers in the information technology field; and
    • business investors and senior executives in the management and supervision field.

Points shall be awarded for each of the categories and various preferential immigration control measures aimed at guaranteeing a smooth entry into and stay in Japan will be taken for those persons who have accumulated a certain number of points. The Japanese government reviewed the status and decided to make some amendments to open this preferential system to more foreign nationals as from 1 April 2015. The Japanese government has been promoting the further acceptance of highly skilled professionals who they hope will contribute to Japan’s economic growth by creating jobs and generating new demand. In this regard, one of the policies of the ‘Japan Revitalisation Strategy’ is the implementation of cross-agency efforts aimed at the improvement of living and working environments for highly skilled professionals, with the ultimate goal of promoting overall acceptance.

Additional measures being taken by the Japanese government in terms of attracting foreign talent include the following:

  • promotion of the acceptance of foreign nationals in professional or technical fields in response to the movement of economic markets;
  • acceptance of foreign nationals possessing nationally recognised Japanese qualifications in the medical and nursing care fields;
  • acceptance of foreign nationals of Japanese descent;
  • further promotion of an international exchange programme;
  • efforts to achieve the recognition of Japan as a tourism-orientated country;
  • expansion of youth exchanges through the working holiday programme and internship programme for students of foreign colleges;
  • further mobilisation of business people to promote economic growth;
  • promotion of the further acceptance of foreign students;
  • expansion of the number of resident foreign students, in which primary school students and guardians would be included;
  • simplification of the process to apply to schools involved in foreign exchange programmes, as well as increased efforts to facilitate the process of foreign students applying for permission to work in Japan after graduation;
  • efforts to ensure appropriate training and technical internship programmes. These programmes are intended to contribute internationally in supporting the training of the talent pool in developing countries. While the scheme is being utilised mainly by small and medium-sized business enterprises, issues have been identified in the past that exposed misuse of the programme as a means of acquiring low-wage labour. In order to deal with this situation, measures were taken to reinforce protection of the trainees and technical interns through the amendment of the Immigration Control Act in 2009;
  • measures pertaining to the protection of technical interns. The practical trainees who were not previously recognised as workers will become eligible as ‘workers’ under the Labour Standards Act, the Minimum Wages Act and other labour-related regulations;
  • strengthening supervision by associations and strict measures against organisations committing misconduct;
  • ensuring the propriety of the sending organisations and reinforcement of efforts to work on the sending countries to carry out measures against brokers; and
  • activation of a national debate on the acceptance of foreign nationals. Based on the population decline in Japan, it is important to find effective solutions, such as utilising the potential workforce of young people, women and elderly people to increase productivity. A wide-ranging debate on the future ideal image of Japan is required.

The Japanese government made public its plans to maintain social order and to protect national security; it will act to prevent the entry of terrorists and criminals into the country. In addition, aggressive implementation of measures targeting illegal foreign residents and illegal periods of residency under the guise of permitted activities will be introduced.

The current system of residence management was introduced on 9 July 2012 and applies to medium to long-term foreign residents. The residence card has improved tracking capabilities and employees will be required to report their immigration activity to the authorities within a specific time frame. The government will require companies to have policies in place to capture the required information in a timely fashion in order to accurately monitor the domiciles and residence of foreign nationals living in Japan. The provision of information is necessary in facilitating the implementation of the administrative services offered by the local authorities and in striving for enhanced convenience for foreign nationals.

The number of foreign residents is expected to increase in 2019 with the introduction of two new residence statuses. To accommodate the increase and anticipated further increase of foreign nationals, the Japanese government plans to implement the following new policies:

  • integrated countermeasures for foreign acceptance, which will enable foreign nationals to work in an increased range of disciplines, such as teaching languages, translating or individual sports instruction; and
  • support for Japanese language education for foreign nationals both prior to, and post, entry to Japan.

Short-term transfers

Visas

In what circumstances is a visa necessary for short-term travellers? How are short-term visas obtained?

Foreign nationals from countries other than those included within the visa exemption arrangement with Japan need to apply for a temporary visitor visa prior to arrival in Japan. An application for a temporary visitor visa should be submitted to the local Japanese consulate. The required documents and period to obtain the visa will vary depending on each consulate or embassy. Landing permission will be granted upon arrival in Japan by the immigration inspector, which is normally valid for 90 days. However, this may vary according to nationality and purpose of travel.

Restrictions

What are the main restrictions on a business visitor?

Foreign nationals can enter Japan as a temporary visitor provided the scope of their business activities is limited to meetings, negotiations, fact-finding missions and exploring business opportunities.

The immigration authorities may question the purpose of entry and stay in Japan of a foreign national who frequently travels in and out of Japan on business as a temporary visitor. If the individual is not able to provide satisfactory reasons to support entry under the temporary visitor status, landing permission may not be granted. In cases where the individual performs any project work generating revenue in Japan, regardless of duration of stay, the activities may be recognised as work. In such a case, a three-month work permit should be obtained prior to entry into Japan.

Short-term training

Is work authorisation or immigration permission needed to give or receive short-term training?

A foreign national who conducts and participates in training for a short period of time can enter Japan as a temporary visitor. If the individual is a national of a country participating in a visa exemption agreement with Japan, a temporary visitor visa would not be required. In the case of individuals from non-participating countries, a temporary visitor visa would be required.

Transit

Are transit visas required to travel through your country? How are these obtained? Are they only required for certain nationals?

Foreign nationals who wish to land and stay temporarily in the vicinity of the port of call and those who wish to land for transfer to another aircraft in Japan are permitted to land in Japan under certain conditions. When this special landing permission is granted, certain restrictions on the period of landing and the permitted area of movement will be imposed as a condition of this permission. Applications for special landing permission must be filed by the airlines that have brought such foreign nationals to Japan.

Permission for landing in transit is given when a foreign passenger aboard an aircraft wishes to land and stay for a period of no more than three days and to move from the port of entry to a neighbouring port. To ensure a smooth transit, it is recommended for those from countries who do not have visa exemption agreements with Japan to obtain a valid visa in advance.

Visa waivers and fast-track entry

Are any visa waiver or fast-track entry programmes available?

There are no visa waiver or fast-track programmes for long-term residences. However, Japan has visa exemption arrangements with 68 countries and regions for the temporary visitor visa status. Nationals of these countries and regions are exempted from obtaining visas to enter Japan if they will not be engaged in paid activities in Japan (eg, for tourism, to visit acquaintances or relatives, or to attend conferences). The period of stay typically granted is 90 days, although for certain nationals, this may be limited to 15 or 30 days.

Long-term transfers

Categories

What are the main work and business permit categories used by companies to transfer skilled staff?

‘Intra-company transferee’ status is the main permission that is granted for individuals who are being transferred by their employers to Japan and have been employed by the overseas entity for a period of at least one year prior to applying for a Japanese certificate of eligibility (CoE). This status is valid for the international transfer of staff between related organisations.

Procedures

What are the procedures for obtaining these permissions? At what stage can work begin?

International assignees are required to obtain a CoE through their host office in Japan prior to applying for the work visa at the local consulate general of Japan. The international assignee is required to apply for a visa with the CoE in person at the consulate. As the CoE is valid for three months from the date of issuance, the assignee is required to enter Japan with a valid visa and CoE within that time period. An individual can begin working upon being granted landing permission along with appropriate immigration status to work.

Period of stay

What are the general maximum (and minimum) periods of stay granted under the main categories for company transfers?

The maximum period of stay granted under the intra-company transferee status is five years under the current immigration law, while the minimum period is three months, and it is possible to be extended according to the period of assignment.

Processing time

How long does it typically take to process the main categories?

The examination period for the main applications generally takes four to 12 weeks, depending on the location and size of operations of the host company in Japan.

Staff benefits

Is it necessary to obtain any benefits or facilities for staff to secure a work permit?

The provision of benefits or facilities is not required to obtain a work permit at the time of application for the CoE.

Assessment criteria

Do the immigration authorities follow objective criteria, or do they exercise discretion according to subjective criteria?

The immigration authorities in Japan follow objective criteria for most applications. In unusual cases, they will review the applications in detail and exercise the discretion of the Minister of Justice. In this case, the period for application may take longer.

High net worth individuals and investors

Is there a special route for high net worth individuals or investors?

No. All applications are examined based on the objective criteria for each category of immigration status.

Is there a special route (including fast track) for high net worth individuals for a residence permission route into your jurisdiction?

No.

Highly skilled individuals

Is there a special route for highly skilled individuals?

A preferential immigration system adopts a points-based system for highly skilled foreign professionals if they accumulate enough points based on their educational and occupational background, annual income, position, Japanese language ability, etc. Individuals who meet the point threshold will benefit from expedited application procedures, broader work authorisation rights, expanded spousal work benefits, a shorter path to permanent residence, sponsoring a foreign national domestic helper and the ability to bring accompanying parents under certain circumstances.

Ancestry and descent

Is there a special route for foreign nationals based on ancestry or descent?

Individuals of Japanese descent are entitled to the status of ‘long-term resident’. Japanese descendents include those who are ancestors of Japanese people who had travelled abroad as immigrants in the past.

Minimum salary

Is there a minimum salary requirement for the main categories for company transfers?

Salary information is required to show that the level of pay is sufficient to live in Japan and the amount should be equivalent to that of local Japanese national employees who assume the same roles and responsibilities in the company. There are no guidelines in place that set minimum salary thresholds from an immigration prospective.

Resident labour market test

Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?

No.

Shortage occupations

Is there a special route for shortage occupations?

In April 2019, Japan launched a new immigration system aimed at bringing in workers from abroad into 14 sectors facing domestic workforce shortages: nursing care, building cleaning services, casting, industrial machinery manufacturing, electrical and electronic information, construction, shipbuilding and marine equipment, car maintenance, aviation, lodging, agriculture, fishery, food and beverage manufacturing, and the restaurant business.

The new system allows foreign workers aged 18 years or older to apply for two new residence statuses.

Specified skilled worker (i)

This visa status allows people who have either completed a three-year trainee programme or passed a language and skills test to work in Japan. The initial duration of stay granted will be for a period of four or six months, or one year; however, this can be renewed for up to a total of five years. Workers who are granted this status will not be allowed to bring their family members to Japan.

Specified skilled worker (ii)

This visa status, which requires higher skill levels than for the specified skilled worker (i) status, allows workers to live and work in Japan with their dependents. The initial duration of stay granted will be for six months, one year or three years, and there are no limits on the number of times the work permission can be renewed.

Other eligibility requirements

Are there any other main eligibility requirements to qualify for work permission in your jurisdiction?

A college or university degree, or at least 10 years’ work experience, in the same field as the applicant is planning to work in within Japan, would be required for the main immigration statuses other than the newly introduced specified skilled worker statuses.

Third-party contractors

What is the process for third-party contractors to obtain work permission?

Third-party contractors should apply for a CoE through the recipient company where they actually work in Japan. Under the circumstances, it would be required to explain the relationship between the applicant, the recipient and the home companies. The recipient company in Japan needs to be responsible for the contractor in their company. An agreement between the recipient company and the contractor would be required, including information such as the period of contract; role and job title to be assumed; and amount of remuneration that the contractor may receive. Once the CoE is issued for the contractor, the individual will apply for the visa at the Japanese consulate with the CoE. With the CoE and a valid visa in his or her passport, the contractor will be granted landing permission by the immigration inspector at the airport, and at the same time, working status will be granted.

Recognition of foreign qualifications

Is an equivalency assessment or recognition of skills and qualifications required to obtain immigration permission?

Most of the working statuses require academic qualifications from a university or college, of which the field of major should relate to the business field the applicant is being sent to Japan to work in. A copy of the diploma issued by the academic institution attended is required at the time of application. In the event such academic qualifications are not met, the applicant will need to show proof of professional experience in the field in question for a period of 10 years or more. However, where the applicant is an investor in the business or assumes the role of a registered director of the local corporation, proof of educational background is not required. For those who apply for ‘intra-company transferee’ status, it is not necessary to show proof of academic qualifications; however, an unbroken employment period with the overseas organisation in excess of one year should be verified.

For individuals with special skills, such as aircraft pilots, lawyers, doctors and nurses, certain other qualifications would be required.

Extensions and variations

Short-term to long-term status

Can a short-term visa be converted in-country into longer-term authorisations? If so, what is the process?

It is not permitted to convert short-term status to long-term status while remaining in Japan. Foreign nationals are required to apply for a CoE first before applying for long-term status. With a CoE, it might be possible to apply for a change of status from temporary visitor to work permit without applying for a visa at a Japanese consulate in the event a CoE is issued while staying in Japan as a temporary visitor.

Long-term extension

Can long-term immigration permission be extended?

It is possible to apply for an extension of period of stay under the same employment conditions. In the event that the employment conditions change, it may be required to apply for a change of status to other categories.

Exit and re-entry

What are the rules on and implications of exit and re-entry for work permits?

If an individual re-enters Japan with a residence card within one year under the same category and employment conditions, a re-entry permission is not required, as long as an intention of re-entry is notified by filling out an embarkation card at exit. A valid re-entry permit is required in an individual’s passport if an individual is going to be absent from Japan for a period of more than one year and within the remaining period of the work permit. For those granted a three-month period of stay under the work permit, it is recommendable to obtain a re-entry permission in the passport after entry to Japan.

Permanent residency and citizenship

How can immigrants qualify for permanent residency or citizenship?

Individuals who have lived in Japan with a valid working status for five or more consecutive years out of the previous 10 years are eligible to apply for permanent residency. Individuals who have a ‘spouse or child of Japanese national’ residency permission for three-year or five-year periods are eligible to apply for permanent residency after a one-year stay in Japan. Individuals who have lived in Japan under the points-based system for one year with accumulated points of 80 or for three years with accumulated points of 70 are eligible to apply for permanent residency. Certain guidelines may be required based on the background of each applicant going through the examination process. The expected period of the examination process is approximately six months or longer.

For citizenship, the application process and the government agencies are entirely different to those for permanent residency. Eligibility for citizenship is through legal acknowledgement by a parent or through naturalisation. For naturalisation, the candidate must:

  • have been domiciled in Japan for five consecutive years;
  • be aged 20 or over;
  • have abided by Japanese laws, including tax compliance;
  • have a clean financial background;
  • lose foreign nationality;
  • have complied with the constitution of Japan; and
  • have a certain level of proficiency in the Japanese language.

The processing for naturalisation generally takes 10 to 12 months.

End of employment

Must immigration permission be cancelled at the end of employment in your jurisdiction?

Immigration permission will be cancelled when the assignee departs Japan by surrendering the residence card to the immigration inspector at the airport at the time of repatriation. In the event the assignee changes his or her employer in Japan, he or she would be required to review the new role to determine whether the current immigration status would fit the new job description. If the job is very similar to the previous job and the immigration permission would still be valid, it may be renewed at the time of expiry of the current visa. Such applications can be submitted to the immigration authorities three months prior to the expiry date. The individual is, however, required to submit a notification to the immigration authorities declaring that there has been a change in his or her employer within 14 days of the date of the change. If the new job is different from the previous job, he or she may be required to apply for a change of status on a priority basis. For an individual who remains with the same organisation but assumes a new role or employment title, his or her immigration status may need to be updated to the extent the current status is no longer in line with the designated job responsibilities. The employer is required to report to the authorities the status of employment within 14 days.

Employee restrictions

Are there any specific restrictions on a holder of employment permission?

The employment status will be granted based on the information provided to the immigration authorities. If any changes are expected regarding the employment (such as entering a different business field or promotion to director), the individual needs to update the immigration status to meet the immigration criteria. As another example, if the individual wishes to work for another employer in addition to his or her current employer, he or she would be required to inform the immigration authorities of such employment changes by applying for the authorised employment permission.

Dependants

Eligibility

Who qualifies as a dependant?

In Japan, only the spouse and children can apply for dependent family status. This relationship would be verified by submitting a copy of a marriage certificate for the spouse and birth certificates for the children. For a child from a spouse’s previous marriage, an immigration status for designated activities is issued, which will be approved by the Minister of Justice based on the specific circumstances.

Conditions and restrictions

Are dependants automatically allowed to work or attend school?

Spouses and children with dependent family status may be authorised to work less than 28 hours per week by applying for work permission. If the spouse wishes to work in excess of 28 hours per week, he or she would be required to apply for his or her own independent employment permission from the immigration authorities. Dependants may attend school.

Access to social benefits

What social benefits are dependants entitled to?

The majority of expatriate employees in Japan are covered by their home country social insurance systems or international health coverage plans. Therefore, to the extent an expatriate does not participate in the local Japanese social insurance system, neither the expatriate nor his or her dependants are entitled to Japanese social benefits. If an individual participates in the social insurance system, his or her dependants would be entitled to the same benefits as the primary participant.

Other requirements, restrictions and penalties

Criminal convictions

Are prior criminal convictions a barrier to obtaining immigration permission?

Depending on the circumstances of the criminal convictions, it will be determined whether the permission will be granted. To go through the application process smoothly, certain documents pertaining to the applicant’s criminal record would facilitate the process.

Penalties for non-compliance

What are the penalties for companies and individuals for non-compliance with immigration law? How are these applied in practice?

Non-compliance or falsely declaring salary, academic qualifications or submitting forged documents with the application is an offence. Upon conviction, the individual or, in relevant cases, the company, may be liable to revocation of status of residence, deportation, a fine or a jail term, or both, and it could be a basis for denial of any future entry to Japan.

Language requirements

Are there any minimum language requirements for migrants?

There are no clear guidelines for language requirements to apply for long-term resident status, including permanent resident status. However, minimum conversational ability in Japanese required to function in everyday life would be expected, in the event the immigration authorities request an interview.

Medical screening

Is medical screening required to obtain immigration permission?

No.

Secondment

Is there a specific procedure for employees on secondment to a client site in your jurisdiction?

In general, an acceptance of secondment needs to be verified in documentation by the recipient organisation in Japan. A statement between the client and individual would be required providing an explanation of the background and purpose of the secondment. As there could be various types of secondments under this situation, it is recommended to check with the immigration authority to seek its advice in advance.

Update and trends

Key developments of the past year

Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

Key developments of the past year40 Are there any emerging trends or hot topics in corporate immigration regulation in your jurisdiction?

Japan, long known to be immigration-averse, has, for the first time in the post-war period, formally opened its doors to blue-collar foreign workers from April 2019. While in the past, the country granted work visas to professionals with high levels of skills and knowledge only, this new positive policy to accept blue-collar foreign workers is seen as a welcome move to ease acute labour shortages, which have hit some businesses hard.

In addition, the immigration authorities are working on simplifying the visa-related procedures with a move towards accepting renewal applications online later in 2019. The above changes have been introduced because Japan is trying to attract more foreign workers to the country due to the labour shortages caused by an ageing population.