Written by Joanna Hughes

Japan’s world-class higher education system, rich cultural heritage, extraordinary cuisine, abundant language learning opportunities, and relatively low tuition fees are among the many reasons that make 'The Land of the Rising Sun' an exceptional place to study. One more thing to add to the list? Its commitment to advancing internationalization by welcoming more international students, which has been making headlines lately. Read on for a roundup of recent news on how Japan is working toward its “300,000 Foreign Students Plan.” 

The South China Morning Post reported that Japan had eased immigration rules to allow foreign workers with certain language and job skills to apply for resident status. Dubbed Specified Skilled Worker No. 1, the visa applies to 14 sectors, including farming, nursing care, and construction. According to SCMP, the government expects up to 345,150 international workers to go this route over the next half-decade with the majority expected to be in nursing care. 

The Mainichi reported that Japan’s new specified skills visa was catching the attention of young people in Nepal seeking the “Japanese dream.” Nepalese student Nirmal Lama, who had migrated to Japan, told The Mainichi, “In Japan, if you work hard there are opportunities. You just don’t have that in Nepal.” 

A Japan Times piece revealed that the Japanese government has implemented a regulatory reform measure through which foreign students would be able to switch their resident status while at university in order to start their own companies. Under the previous terms, international students on student visas could not start new businesses unless they quit or graduated, returned home, and sought a visa for that purpose. 

Several reports also address a push for talent in sought-after areas including IT and engineering. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Mongolia, Romania and Myanmar represent a “new frontier” for Japan in the search for IT talent as the country deals with a dearth of homegrown talent and steep competition from the US and Europe. 

The Japan Times also reported on increasing demand for international IT engineering talent with a deficit of just under 800,000 software engineers predicted by 2030. “Even if the workplace is an English-friendly one, it’s still the case that the more Japanese skills you have the easier your life will be at work and also in your everyday life. And for those who have the prized combination of both programming skills and good Japanese, potential opportunities increase significantly,” writer Rochelle Kopp asserts. 

One profession set to be taxed by the influx of foreign talent, according to Quartz? Japanese teachers. As more foreigners are moving to Japan, the number of Japanese language educators is not keeping pace. To help bridge the gap, the government has announced plans to debut a nationally recognized accreditation program by 2020 which aims to make Japanese teaching a more specialized and higher-paying profession. 

This isn’t to say there haven’t been some growing pains along the way. According to a Japan Times report, a university in the country was recently sanctioned by the government after losing track of more than 1,600 international students over a two-year period. Education minister Masahiko Shibayama said, “We can’t overlook the problems of the university having easily accepted foreign students and allowed increases in the number of missing students and illegal overstayers due to the inappropriate enrollment management.”

However, many experts, including the ASEAN +3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO), agree that the opening up of Japan to international workers is a solution Japan needs, according to a report from BusinessWorld. “At this juncture, accepting more foreign workers is necessary to ensure a steady supply of labor to support economic growth. As a result, the Japanese government has taken major steps to welcome more foreign workers, the scale of which is unprecedented in Japanese history,” AMRO insists. The think tank also called on the country to do even more to entice foreign workers. “Japan should consider providing a more favorable living and working environment to make them feel at home, including a social security system for foreign workers comparable to the scheme for Japanese peers. Loosening entry requirements, such as the minimum level of Japanese language required, can also increase the attractiveness of working in Japan,” AMRO continues. 

It’s also important to note that as Japan endeavors to attract more inward-bound students, it’s also prioritizing outward-bound mobility as well, as reported by Nippon.com. However, while the number of Japanese students studying abroad has been consistently rising since 2009, the majority of Japanese international students participate in short-term programs of less than a month. Just two percent choose coursework that lasts more than a year due to concerns about money and the impact on their job prospects. 

In a Bloomberg Opinion piece, Noah Smith not only looks ahead to a multicultural Japan in the future but contends that Japan’s increasingly open stance toward immigration can already be seen on the streets of Tokyo. He writes, “Although Tokyo isn’t close to becoming a multiracial metropolis like New York City or London, the word ‘homogeneous’ no longer fits the city. [...] Tokyo is an early harbinger of changes that are coming, albeit more slowly, to the rest of Japan.” 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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