This new addition to the Getting The Deal Through series offers a comparative summary of corporate immigration in the global sphere, with contributions from leading international practitioners. Topics covered include: short and long term transfers, permit procedures and timelines, routes for entrepreneurs and highly skilled, extensions and variations of permits and rights of dependants.

Overview

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 profes- sional 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 pro- actively 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 eco- nomic growth in Japan; and
  • on 7 May 2012, a preferential system was introduced, which adopts a points-based system for highly qualified labour, such as:
    • researchers, scientists and college professors in the academic research field;
    • doctors and lawyers possessing advanced qualifications, spe- cialised 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 prefer- ential 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. Two years after the initial implementation of this preferential system, 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 pro- gramme 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 to 300,000 as a target from 1 April 2015, 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 pro- grammes. These programmes are intended to contribute interna- tionally 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 reinforce- ment of efforts to work on the sending countries to carry out meas- ures against brokers; and
  • activation of a national debate on the acceptance of foreign nation- als. 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 produc- tivity. 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 terror- ists and criminals into the country. In addition, aggressive implementa- tion 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 nationals coming to Japan increased in 2017, compared with 2016, for both short-term visitors (up by 15.6 per cent) and medium to long-term foreign residents (up by 7.5 per cent). In order to accommodate the increase and anticipated further increase of for- eign nationals, the Japanese government plans to implement the fol- lowing new policies by the end of 2018:

Short-term transfers

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 pur- pose of travel.

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.

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

Foreign nationals who conduct training, as well as participate in train- ing, 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.

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 condi- tions. When this special landing permission is granted, certain restric- tions 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.

Long-term transfers

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.

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 consu- late 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, they are 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.

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 trans- feree 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.

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

It may take three to 10 weeks, depending on the location and size of operations of the host company in Japan.

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.

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 that case, the period for application may take longer.

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

There is no special route for them. All applications will be examined based on the objective criteria for each category of immigration status.

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.

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

There is no special route for high net worth individuals.

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 respon- sibilities in the company. There are no guidelines in place that set mini- mum salary thresholds from an immigration prospective.

Is there a quota system or resident labour market test?

There is no quota system, nor is there a resident labour market test in Japan.

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 agree- ment 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 their passport, landing permission will be granted by the immigration inspector at the airport, and at the same time working status will be granted.

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 uni- versity or college, of which the field of major should relate to the busi- ness field the applicant is being sent to Japan to work in. A copy of the diploma issued by the academic institution they 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 experi- ence 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 quali- fications; 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, nurses, etc, certain other qualifications would be required.

Extensions and variations

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 possi- ble 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.

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.

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 per- mission 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 remain- ing period of the work permit. For those who are 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.

 

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 eligi- ble 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 and 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 agen- cies 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.

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 their employer in Japan, they 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 sub- mitted 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, they may be required to apply for a change of status on a priority basis. For individuals who remain with the same organisation but assume new roles or employment titles, 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 employ- ment within 14 days.

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, promotion to director, etc), the individual needs to update the immi- gration 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

Who qualifies as a dependant?

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

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 their own independent employment per- mission from the immigration authorities.

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 cover- age plans. Therefore, to the extent an expatriate does not participate in the local Japanese social insurance system, both the expatriate and their dependants are not 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 matters

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.

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 lia- ble 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.

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 func- tion in everyday life would be expected, in the event the immigration authorities request an interview.

Is medical screening required to obtain immigration permission?

Medical screenings are not required to obtain permission to enter and stay in Japan.

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 docu- mentation 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 their advice in advance.