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I. Introduction

Foreigners wishing to enter Japan are, in principle, required to have a valid passport issued by the government of their own country along with a visa issued by the Japanese embassy or consulate.[1]  At an airport or seaport, immigration officers check whether or not the foreign national wishing to enter Japan meets the requirements for entering the country.[2]  If the requirements are met, the immigration officer grants the foreigner landing permission, which is stamped on his or her passport.[3]  The landing permission shows the status of residence of the foreigner. 

Foreign nationals who have received landing permission are required to engage in activities pursuant to their status of residence.[4]  There are twenty-seven statuses of residence.[5]  Among them, sixteen are for employment of foreigners.  Some others, such as trainee and permanent resident statuses of residence, also allow for employment.

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II.  Low-Skilled Workers 

In principle, Japan does not accept low-skilled temporary workers.  However, some statuses of residence are, in fact, used for low-skilled workers.

A.  Technical Intern Trainees

The technical intern trainee status of residence is the current status used for temporary low-skilled foreign workers.  Previously the Immigration Control Law had established “trainee” and “intern” statuses, whose purpose was to allow for the transfer of technical skills to the trainees’ countries of origin.  It was not the intention of the law to accept low-skilled workers.[6]  However, because the trainee status was used by some enterprises to acquire cheap labor and some foreign workers were exploited, the Immigration Control Law was amended in 2010 to reform the trainee system,[7] newly creating the “technical intern trainee” status.  Some of the requirements for the technical intern trainee status are as follows:

  • Skills that the trainee is going to acquire cannot be low-level skills involved in routine, repetitive work.
  • The trainee must be eighteen years of age or over and be scheduled to be employed in work that makes use of the newly acquired skills after he or she returns to his or her home country.
  • The trainee must plan to acquire skills that are difficult to acquire at his or her location in the home country.[8]

At first, trainees receive lectures and technical training for up to one year.  Then, they can engage in on-the-job training for up to two years,[9] after which they must return to their country, because the purpose of the program is to transfer technical skills to the country from which the trainees come.  There is no path to permanent residency.  Qualified nonprofit organizations, which include small business associations and chambers of commerce and industry, can accept technical intern trainees and provide technical intern training for their member companies.  Individual Japanese companies may accept and provide technical intern training for employees of their overseas branches, joint venture companies, and business partners.[10]  When trainees are accepted through qualified organizations, these organizations verify and ensure that the technical intern training at each member company is performed appropriately.[11]

The Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), which is a public-interest foundation and authorized by the Cabinet office, supports technical intern training programs.[12]  JITCO also cooperates with governmental contacts for the countries sending trainees in order to run the program properly.  JITCO and the sending countries discuss matters relating to the program and sign the Record of Discussions.  The sending countries check recruitment agencies in their countries and accredit them if they satisfy their requirements.[13]  The sending countries communicate the identities of accredited agencies, and JITCO publicizes them to Japanese organizations and companies.  It is recommended that trainees be accepted only through accredited organizations, but this has not been mandated by law.[14]

B.  Long-term Residents

A number of descendants of Japanese emigrants went to Japan after 1987 when Japanese industry needed more workers.  Consequently, in 1990, the Immigration Control Law was amended and enabled foreigners who are second- and third-generation descendents of Japanese emigrants to go to Japan as long-term residents.[15]  Long-term residents can stay and work without restriction in Japan under the status of residence for long-term residents.[16]  Many of them are from South American countries, such as Brazil and Peru.[17]  The term of this status of residence is for up to five years.[18]  When they enter Japan or renew their status of residence, a criminal record issued from police authorities in the country they have come from is required.[19]

Japanese descendants do not need an employer as a sponsor when they apply for a visa if they have other sponsors, such as relatives.[20]  There are four routes for Japanese descendents from Brazil to find an employer: 1) the referral of friends or acquaintances; 2) Brazilian brokers specializing in Japanese-Brazilian jobs in Japan; 3) Brazilian branches of Japanese recruitment companies; 4) Japanese companies posting jobs through ordinary job postings in Brazil.[21]

There is a path to permanent residency for Japanese descendents in accordance with the general requirements for acquiring permanent resident status.  In addition, family members can accompany Japanese descendants when they come to Japan.

C.  Foreign Caregivers Under the Economic Partnership Agreement

Foreign nurses and caregivers from countries that concluded agreements with Japan under Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are allowed to stay in Japan for three or four years.  Currently, the Philippines and Indonesia have such agreements with Japan.  Vietnam concluded the EPA but is still negotiating the conditions for acceptance of nurses.[22]  Foreign nurses and caregivers receive training and study for their exams while working at Japanese hospitals and homes for the elderly.  If they fail to pass their exams within the designated period, they must return home.  Employment is allowed under the status of “designated activities.”[23]

Although it is often stated that it is the shortage of nurses and caregivers in Japan’s aging society that caused the Japanese government to accept foreign nurses and caregivers,[24] the government denies this, saying that the system was created based on the requests from foreign governments and has the purpose of forging stronger economic ties. [25]

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Prepared by Sayuri Umeda
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
Februrary 2013



[1] Visa System in Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/system/ index.html (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).

[2] Shutsunyūgoku kanri oyobi nan’min nintei hō [Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law] (Immigration Control Law), Order no. 319 of 1951, last amended by Law No. 79 of 2009, art. 7.

[3] Id. art. 9.

[4] Id. art. 2-2.

[5] Id. art. 2-2 and Annexed Tables 1 & 2.  English translation of statuses is available on the website for foreign students managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/toj/toj04e_01.html (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).

[6] Aratana kenshū ginō jisshu seido ni kakaru Q&A [Q&A Regarding New Trainee and Technical Intern Training Systems], Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Q 1-2, http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri07_ 00011.html (last visited Feb. 27, 2013).

[7] Ginō jisshūsei no nyūkoku zairyū kanri ni kansuru shishin [Guidelines on the Acceptance and Management of Technical Interns’ Stays] (as amended in Nov. 2012), Immigration Bureau, MOJ, http://www.moj.go.jp/content/ 000102863.pdf.

[8] Status of Residence of “Trainee”,Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), http://www.jitco.or.jp/english/overview/comparison.html (last visited Feb. 27, 2013).

[9] Immigration Control Law, Order no. 319 of 1951, last amended by Law No. 79 of 2009, art. 21.  Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law Enforcement Ordinance, MOJ Ordinance No. 55 of 1981, last amended by MOJ Ordinance No. 40 of 2012, art. 3 and Annexed Table 2.

[10] Purpose of the “Technical Intern Training Program”,JITCO, http://www.jitco.or.jp/english/overview/ itp/index.html (last visited Feb. 26, 2013).

[11] Structure of the Technical Intern Training Program, JITCO, http://www.jitco.or.jp/english/overview/ tip/index.html (last visited Feb. 26, 2013).

[12] About JITCO, JITCO, http://www.jitco.or.jp/english/about/index.html (last visited Feb. 26, 2013).

[13] Okuridashi koku seifu madoguchi to JITCO no teiki kyōgi [Periodic Meetings Between Governmental Points of Contact of Sending Countries and JITCO], JITCO, http://www.jitco.or.jp/send/index.html (in Japanese; last visited Feb. 27, 2013).

[14] Okuridashi nintei kikan ni tsuite [Regarding Accredited Agencies], JITCO (Feb. 1, 2013), http://www.jitco.or.jp/ send/accredited_sending_organizations.html (in Japanese).

[15] Conference on Long-term Residents Who Are Descendants of Japanese Emigrants, Nikkei teijū gaikokujin sesaku ni kansuru kihon shishin [Guidelines Concerning Policies on Long-term Residents Who Are Descendants of Japanese Emigrants], Aug, 31, 2010, http://www8.cao.go.jp/teiju/guideline/pdf/fulltext.pdf.

[16] Shutsunyūgoku kanri oyobi nan’min nintei hō dai 7 jō dai 1 kou dai 2 gō no kitei ni motoduki dōhō beppyō dai ni no teijūsha no kō no karan ni kakageru chii o sadameru ken [Regarding Status of Long-term Residents Described in Annexed Table 2 of Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law Under Article 7, Paragraph 1, Item 2 of the Law], MOJ Notice No. 132 of 1990, last amended by MOJ Notification No. 37 of 2010.

[17] Conference on Long-term Residents Who Are Descendants of Japanese Emigrants, supra note 15.

[18] Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law Enforcement Ordinance, MOJ Ordinance No. 55 of 1981, last amended by MOJ Ordinance No. 40 of 2012, art. 3 and Annexed Table 2.

[19] Zairyū shikaku “teijūsha” de nyūgoku/ zairyū suru nikkeijin no kata no nyūkan tetuduki ni tsuite [Concerning the Immigration Procedure for Japanese Descendants Who Enter or Stay in Japan Under the Status of Residence for a “Long-term Resident”], MOJ, http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/keiziban/happyou/nikkei.html (last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

[20] Nikkei biza no pointo [Points About Japanese Descendant Visas], Office Aoyagi, http://www.officeaoyagi. sakura.ne.jp/nikkei.html (last visited Feb. 27, 2013).

[21] Nobuhisa Kameda, Gaikokujin rōdōsha mondai no shosō [Various Issues Facing Foreign Workers], Reference, at 24 (Apr. 2008), http://www.ndl.go.jp/jp/data/publication/refer/200804_687/068702.pdf.

[22] Regarding Acceptance of Foreign Nurse and Caregiver Candidates from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam (in Japanese), Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), http://www.mhlw.go.jp/bunya/ koyou/other22/ (last visited Feb. 27, 2013).

[23] Please Confirm Whether Foreigners Are Allowed to Work When You Hire Them (in Japanese), MHLW, http://www2.mhlw.go.jp/topics/seido/anteikyoku/gairou/980908gai01.htm (last visited Feb. 27, 2013).

[24] Ida Torres, Japan Extends Training Period for Filipino, Indonesian Nurses, Japan Daily Press (Feb. 26, 2013), http://japandailypress.com/japan-extends-training-period-for-filipino-indonesian-nurses-2624095.

[25] Regarding Acceptance of Foreign Nurse and Caregiver Candidates from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, MHLW, supra note 22 (in Japanese).

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Last Updated: 09/16/2014