Yomiuri on “Points System” visa: “Too strict”, few takers, under review by Justice Ministry (which institutionally will never be able to fix it)


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Hi Blog.  An attempted panacea to Japan’s lack of formal immigration policy floated many moons ago (and discussed here and here) was a “Points System” visa, here to bring “higher-skilled” workers (koudo jinzai).  I critiqued it for its probable failure in the Japan Times here.

The failure has officially happened.  Even the Justice Ministry admits below that the visa regime has attracted few people, and that, as Debito.org has reported before, is because its requirements are too strict.

But to me it’s no wonder it failed.  It’s not merely (as alluded below) an issue of criteria, but rather institutionalized treatment of immigrants.  We saw attitudes towards immigration last summer when ministries debated how immigrants should be treated, and cross-ministerial officials only weakly offered the same old hackneyed conclusions and lessons unlearned:  Privilege granted to Nikkei with the right bloodlines, more attention devoted to how to police NJ than how to make them into Japanese citizens (with their civil and human rights protected), insufficient concern given for assimilation and assistance once NJ come to Japan, and almost no consultation with the NJ who are already in Japan making a life as to what assistance they might need.

This is what happens when you put a people-handling policy solely in the hands of a policing agency (i.e., the Justice Ministry):  Those people being perpetually treated as potential criminals.  There is automatically less focus on what good these people will do and latent suspicion about what harm they might.  It doesn’t help when you also have an administrative regime trying to find any excuse possible to shorten visas and trip immigrants up to “reset the visa clock” for Permanent Residency, through minor administrative infractions (not to mention the fact that changing from your current visa to this “Points System” visa resets your “visa clock” once again).  It’s official ijiwaru, and without a separate ministry (i.e., an Imincho) specifically dedicated configuring immigration or integration into Japanese society, things will not be fixed.  Arudou Debito


Few foreigners tempted by points system
August 7, 2013. The Yomiuri Shimbun, courtesy of JK

A points-based preferential immigration system expected to attract 2,000 highly skilled foreign professionals to Japan annually accepted only 17 foreigners in its first 11 months, a dismal result that has prompted the government to review the criteria experts have blamed for the low number, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The system was adopted by the government last May to encourage skilled foreigners to take up residence in Japan and help boost Japanese economic growth. It gives these specialists privileges such as a shorter minimum-required period of stay for obtaining permanent residence.

Foreigners doing research at universities and other institutions, those with professional skills and corporate managers are eligible to use the system. They are given points in accordance with such criteria as academic credentials, professional and scholastic achievements and promised annual income.

For instance, a researcher with a doctorate who will work at an academic institution is awarded 30 points, while one with a master’s degree gets 20 points. Applicants who get at least 70 points in total are recognized as “highly skilled professionals” and can receive preferential immigration treatment including the right to acquire permanent residence within five years instead of the normal 10; permission for a spouse to work here; and permission to bring a parent to Japan to help look after the professional’s children.

However, only 17 foreigners were admitted to Japan under the point system between May 2012 and early April this year. This number rose to 434 when foreigners who were already in Japan and successfully applied for the system are added. The total includes 246 from China, 32 from the United States, 19 from India and 16 from South Korea.

In April and May, an expert panel at the Justice Ministry discussed reports that the current criteria were too strict.

One criticism was that the yearly income guideline was based on the salary of company workers, making it difficult for researchers at universities with lower yearly incomes to gain high points. Another was that only applicants with a yearly income of at least 10 million yen are allowed to have a parent accompany them to Japan.

After hearing these reports, the goverment began considering the easing of the criteria. Some possibilities include raising the points given for research papers submitted or patents obtained from the current ceiling of 15 points, shortening the minimum-required period of stay from five years to three for applying for permanent residence, and allowing foreigners on lower yearly incomes to bring an accompanying parent.

These issues will be worked out among the Justice, Foreign and Health, Labor and Welfare ministries, with the government planning to amend the system by year-end.

The government’s policy of increasing the number of foreigners to be admitted into Japan via the points system was specified in its growth strategy compiled in June.

“To help our country win in the global competition for excellent manpower, we’ll review the system and call on universities and companies to make better use of it,” said a senior official at the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of immigration control.


12 comments on “Yomiuri on “Points System” visa: “Too strict”, few takers, under review by Justice Ministry (which institutionally will never be able to fix it)

  • “..“To help our country win in the global competition for excellent manpower, we’ll review the system and call on universities and companies to make better use of it,” said a senior official at the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of immigration control…”

    Hahahaha….they really are in cuckoo land.

    If you need people, you simply ask for those in the industry/market to apply or head hunt them. No barriers. Allow workers to enter freely on the promise of a job, simple. The acceptance of the job, as in any employment, should be sufficient enough criteria for entry. If said person is not suitable or qualified enough for the position, they won’t get employed anyway…so why place additional barriers, pointless and typically myopic.

    When I worked in Australia, all the company had to do was prove no one else in the country was either qualified or applied for the position and that I was qualified for it that was all. That ticked all the boxes required. No other bollocks, simple.

    But hey 2000 foreigners per year, in a population of 130million being allowed to run free and possibly stay after their pathetic 3year work visa expires (since it won’t be renewed anyway) ….shock horror….it’ll be the end of the Wa as we know it!!

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @ John K#1

    ‘It’s the end of the WA as we know it!’
    Is going on a T-shirt!
    I’ll give debito a link in case anyone else would like one too.

  • The Immigrant says:

    “This is what happens when you put a people-handling policy solely in the hands of a policing agency”

    You are of course aware that the USCIS is a department under DHS, a law enforcement organization – before DHS existed INS existed under the DoJ, exactly as in Japan.

    In the UK the UK Border Agency, which handles immigration, is a part of the Home Office, which is in charge of law enforcement in the UK.

    In Germany immigration control falls under the Federal Minstry of the Interior – the national law enforcement organization. In Italy immigration control is a function of the State Police, in the Netherlands it is under the control of the Ministry of Security and Justice, in Belgium the Federal Public Service Interior (national law enforcement agency again), etc.

    Even in countries with immigration ministries that are not under the Justice Ministry or local equivalent (France, for example, has a separate ministry, the forebodingly named Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Codevelopment), immigration and border control are almost always inextricably linked, the agencies have strong policing powers, and are for all intents and purposes “policing agencies”. Why would they not be?

    — You are missing the point. There is no agency in Japan specifically entrusted with handling Immigration Policy. As even the GOJ says, Japan has no clear and specific Immigration Policy. And it won’t get one if the only thing the agency does is police, not assist or integrate. All the other agencies you mention do deal in policies that ALSO assist and integrate. This is what people like Sakanaka Hidenori and other spokespeople on immigration in Japan have been advocating for years now.

  • I don’t think any foreigners are surprised about this. Japanese bureaucrats saw that Korea came up with something similar and decided to imitate it (but in a very different way).

    Japan actually manages to attract reasonably skilled people; the problem is actually keeping them in Japan (something that the government doesn’t even acknowledge is a problem).

  • I don’t know if there are others with the same situation, but after reviewing the criteria for the points system, I was discouraged to apply rather than encouraged to apply. I work at a reputable Japanese company for a few years now with an OK (and stable) income; I represent the company in industry organizations and even though there are only few people in the company with my skillset, I still fail to qualify as a “higher-skilled” worker by the points system. Oh well.

  • The Immigrant says:

    “All the other agencies you mention do deal in policies that ALSO assist and integrate.”

    Really? USCIS “assists” immigrants and helps them integrate? You mean like the thousands of Liberian refugees who are facing forced deportation and have been denied the ability to become US citizens?

    Or green card holders with families who face having their green cards revoked and being forcibly deported for even traffic offences? I have lived in the US, and dealt with USCIS, as I believe you now do. Have they made it quite clear to you that you are damned lucky they even let you in, and your stay is a privilege they can take away at any time?

    UKBA “assists” immigrants and helps them integrate? Integrate into coffins, perhaps:

    Have not lived there, have friends who do, they say they once wondered where NBP thugs worked during the week – now they know they mostly work for UKBA!

    But yes, the UK does have an immigration policy:


    “Harass the bloody foreigners and throw them out if they are white like us!”

    Think I am kidding? Check out the Home Office’s new welcome signs:



    “And no paupers, please…”


    Yes, very eager to assist people and help them integrate – if you are the right sort of people, that is.

    — All of these phenomena, particularly the “right sort of people” angle, are true for all sovereign nation-states. Nobody “just lets anyone in”. Where we disagree is here: If anything, I’m arguing that other systems are the same or better (because they have official immigration policies to help SOMEBODY integrate), but you seem to be arguing above that they are the same or worse. Fine, let’s agree to disagree here. But pointing out that there are flaws in other immigration programs does not give license to Japan to keep its flaws, or to have NO real immigration policy (the whole “two wrongs” principle comes to mind…). So thanks for the debate, but we’re trying to fix Japan’s issues here, not point out how other countries have issues therefore.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @The Immigrant

    I don’t think I have to elaborate on this, but I would say it won’t be so difficult for you to learn that Japan is no exception to the problems common to many other immigration systems internationally, when you come to Japan to live your life for a long-term period. It’s quite tempting to say “I can feel more comfortable dealing with problems in Japan rather than US or elsewhere.” That’s fine. But it does not give us any justification to dismiss Japan’s problems as minimal or trivial or 2) denigrate people who are dealing with life struggles and social injustice in Japan, regardless of nationality or status. And I would add ‘us’ is not just limited to NJ or naturalized Japanese.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    >“To help our country win in the global competition for excellent manpower, we’ll review the system and call on universities and companies to make better use of it,” said a senior official at the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of immigration control.”

    This quote pretty much explains the oddity of points-system. It’s nothing about work eligibility since MOJ is all in control to determine their labor skills. Why not the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor!? It really cracks me up when I see justice ministry folk talking about free market ideology.

  • Fight Back says:

    Certainly it’s a staple arguement of the apologists. It’s the ‘other countries do it too defense’

    If Japan’s immigration laws are so wonderful where are all the immigrants? Certainly you are not going to convince me that Japan’s immigration laws are anything but draconian as many here can attest. I think Jim Di Griz has been insulted by immigration officials for no reason in a derogatory manner. Others will have had similar experiences as well as feeling unwelcome in their local communities.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    @Fight Back #9

    True, true. But don’t forget that apparently it was all my fault because my Japanese wasn’t good enough (or so the apologists claimed), as if that makes it alright for government workers to be rude to NJ, as long as the NJ don’t understand!

  • Personally (I accept that my experience may have limited generality) I don’t find immigration laws themselves to be an issue. AIUI, anyone with a decent job can get a visa (renewal) easily enough. In fact, I don’t know of anyone who has had a problem (though I’m sure some exist).

    A much bigger issue IMO is the lack of any meaningful immigration and integration in practice, ie the way that we are usually treated as temporary visitors professionally and personally. Even now I’ve got “permanent” residence, my employer insists on treating me like a short-term employee, who just happens by coincidence to have had 12 consecutive annual contracts. That’s not a matter of immigration law, but instead labour law, culture and custom.

    — Yes, but labor law, culture, and custom grounded in and justified by immigration law. It all part of the system and the national narrative.

  • I think you may be missing the point:
    This program provides proof that the GOJ is trying to address immigration. The fact that it is inept – well, they will get right on that problem! This, like so many things that Japan does not want to do, is intended to weaken opposition, show critics that they are trying, and provide a TINY hoop for a select few to squeeze though.

    I.e.: we are working on the problem. Let’s see how the current program works (this will take several years), and then we will revisit the issue. Patience. We are Japanese. We are all-knowing, except about this issue (and whale “research”, allowing access to our markets, importing foreign rice, etc.).

    After several years of stalling, the GOJ will try another ineffectual program, and it too will serve only to pacify foreign media – which is the actual intent of this and many other Japanese “attempts” to join the international community.

    How do I know? The things that are important to the GOJ (new battleships, militarization) are getting done. Child abductions? (requires further study) Hate speech? effective immigration? yeah – they are working on it.


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