Evaluating the new immigration policy of Japan to bring in highly skilled individuals

The Japanese Immigration Bureau publishes a yearly statistics on the number of applicants for the new highly skilled individual visa. In 2020, data points from a 8 year span are available and I decided to do a short analysis on these numbers, because I was interested in the efficacy of this new visa program. There are 3 types of highly skilled individual visa for foreigners who want to spend 5 years in Japan to expand their business activities or to engage in scientific research. The number of visas issued are published for each type on a yearly basis and the Immigration Office creates a statistic on the number of applicants from each country. I will investigate these numbers.

A yearly statistics on the number of applicants for the new highly skilled individual visa



The most straightforward way to go to Japan is to apply for a tourist visa and if you are from a developed country, you will receive a 90 days permit to travel around the country. If you want to stay longer and you are done with your studies the highly skilled visa is a great option to continue your career in the country. In the previous article I described the three types of visa that are available to foreigners so I will not go into details in the current article. If you want to learn more, click on this link.


The number of visas issued are being registered since 2012. In this year there were 48 academic researcher or 高度学術研究分野 visas, 248 technical expert or 高度専門・技術分野 visas and 17 business manager or 高度経営・管理分野 visas issued. You can already see the trend here. The technical expert visa is much more popular than the other two.


Three visa types for highly skilled individuals in Japan


These numbers grow gradually year by year and up until June, 2020, there were 3515 academic researcher visas, 19.477 technical expert visas and 884 business manager visas issued. So this means that in 2020, there are 23.876 foreigners in Japan on highly skilled individual visas. This is an impressive number, considering that the main goal of the Japanese government is to increase the number of talented researchers and entrepreneurs in the country while maintaining very high level of standards in the evaluation process. They achieve this by adopting a very strict point system and you have to score over 70 if you want to apply for one of these visas. The most advanced Japanese Language Proficiency Test will only give you 15 points so the system is not too generous with these points. But from the statistical data you can tell that in spite of the strict point system there are applicants who pass and enjoy the benefits of this unique visa program.


The Japanese Immigration is planning to increase the number of foreigners on these visa types to 40.000 by 2022, so if you satisfy the requirements nothing should prevent you from applying!


Where do these applicants come from?


The nationality of the applicants is another interesting aspect of the whole story. Luckily the same agency publishes this data as well. This is how the graph looks:


Nationality of the applicants


The first data points are available from 2012 until 2019. There are 5 major countries on the top of the list and the rest of the world is aggregated into a single data point. The document from the Immigration Office shows the number of passed applicants from each country and you can also read the ratio of these from the table.


If you start from left and go to the right you can see the change in these numbers from 2012 to 2019, so for example in 2012 there were 176 applicants from China, 24 applicants from the U.S. 17 applicants from India, 13 applicants from South-Korea, 10 applicants from Taiwan and 73 applicants from the rest of the world.


Let’s compare this with the data from 2019. In 2019, there were 9850 applicants from China, 619 applicants from the U.S. 742 applicants from India, 591 applicants from South-Korea, 502 applicants from Taiwan and 2739 applicants from the rest of the world.


This means that the number of Chinese applicants is always more than half of the total number of applicants. There might be several reasons behind this. My conjecture is that Chinese students are talented and hard-working so they earn themselves these visas by many years of studying and doing research. Cultural similarities between the two countries can also play a significant role in this case. China and Japan are not too far away from each other, so for a Chinese applicant it is much more straightforward to apply for a highly skilled individual visa in Japan than to do the same in Europe for example.


In connection with this statistics there is another very interesting report published in Japan. You can access the document using the following link, but I will include a screenshot from the document.


Report on immigration into Japan


The report starts by stating that for Japan in order to expand more rapidly, it’s economy requires more skilled individuals especially from fields exhibiting rapid growth in recent years. Among these are IT, big data, cryptocurrencies, online marketing and other developing areas of science. The main issue that the Immigration Office has to tackle is the small variety of applicants arriving only from a small set of countries. You can discern this by having a look at the data above. Every year there are many applicants from China and there are some applicants from other countries. The lack of variety in this sense can cause long-term issues, because according to the report if the majority of the applicants come from a certain country Japan might lose in the competition on the international workforce market in the future.


What is the problem with this bias?


More specifically speaking, there are almost no applicants from Eu countries compared to the number of Chinese applicants and if other countries receive a more varied batch of foreigners they become much more competitive. Well, certainly there are already many people who can speak perfect Chinese in Japan, but how many of those on the highly skilled individual visa program can speak French or Spanish?


There are several other aspects to consider when evaluating the efficacy of this program. For example, while Japan embodies the Platonic idea of the country to live in for many occidentals, it’s a less attractive country to work in. Those coming from other Asian countries might find it less frustrating to live and work in a highly hierarchical system, but Japanese work ethic brings goosebumps to the back of many Europeans neck having instilled the idea of “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” in their heads since childhood. So there is a lot to work on the marketing of the highly skilled individual visa program targeting applicants from the West.


Illustration: pakutaso.com


Content: LB




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