Japan’s New Permanent Residency Rules Explained

Back in mid-January, I was somewhat surprised to read that the Japanese Immigration Bureau had announced a relaxation of some of its immigration rules for skilled foreign workers.

Until recently, attaining permanent residency in Japan required a minimum of five and in most cases 10 years of living continuously in Japan to qualify.

With this new legislation, that number has now come down to three years for some and as little as one year for certain, highly-qualified individuals.

But before all you English teachers, students and salarymen and women get too excited about finally being able to get the permanent residence you always wanted, there are a number of caveats attached to these new regulations.

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The biggest catch? The offer only applies to highly-skilled foreign professionals.

So, what is a highly-skilled foreign professional?

Unfortunately for me, it’s not a high school teacher, and it certainly isn’t a part-time writer either!

Basically when applying for permanent residency, all foreign residents of Japan are assigned a points score based on their various qualifications, achievements and standing within their workplace.

Under current regulations, a resident who scores 70 points and above is eligible for permanent residency after five years. All other foreign residents have to wait ten years before being considered.

Under the new system, due to come into play sometime in March, those who score 70 points will be eligible for permanent residency after three years instead of five. If you have a score of over 80 points then this drops down to as short as one year.

How exactly is this score calculated?

Well, first off, this particular visa scheme is distinct from the “Instructor/Specialist in Humanities” and similar visas that account for much of Japan’s foreign workforce.

The scheme focuses on three types of work according to the Ministry of Immigration’s official website:

1) Advanced Academic Research Activities. For example, senior professors at highly accredited universities.
2) Advanced Specialized/Technical Activities. We’re talking high-level engineers, scientists and those working in the humanities fields.
3) Advanced Business Management Activities. This category is mostly aimed at the executive level of managers in public or private enterprises. Think: the CEO of Nissan.
Is there anything we mere mortals can do to boost our own scores?

There are numerous advantages that will build your score. Having a doctorate degree will score you 30 points, 20 points in the case of a masters. Other additions such as having an N1 level Japanese language certification will get you an additional five points. Being able to demonstrate a high level of achievement, such as winning well-known awards, conducting projects for a competitive fund or having a patented invention grants you up to 25 points.

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Depending on the profitability of your company, you could earn up to 50 points just based solely on the performance of your company if you are a CEO. Other issues, such as your age, salary level, professional qualifications and years of experience are also taken into account.

The exact formula is not set and subject to occasional changes. It has not yet been confirmed if the methodology for calculating the score will be adjusted ahead of next month’s rollout of the new policy.

So, for now at least, it seems this will only have an impact on the top tier of foreign workers in Japan. However, some are hoping that this is a first step towards a wider deregulation of immigration laws in Japan.

Hope for the future?
There are certain areas where Japan continues to lead the world, however on immigration, I am sorry to say we remain somewhat behind the times.

However, we shouldn’t be too pessimistic. Even the most ardent of right-wing nationalists cannot deny the fact that Japan will soon be in a dire demographic situation if there isn’t a significant increase in the working population over the next few years.

Immigration is the only way in the short to medium term to solve Japan’s pension deficit and manpower issues.

And in actual fact, I’ve already noticed a significant increase in the number of mixed race children in my classes over the 11 years I’ve been working here.

Last year, statistics showed that one in every ten new marriages in Japan featured at least one foreign partner. Japan is becoming multicultural, albeit slower and more gradually than the likes of Europe or the US. That trend is, in my opinion, irreversible.

The only question is: will immigration and visa policies be able to keep up?

Liam Carrigan
Teacher, journalist and now blogger.

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