Push for foreign students to stay on to work in Japan

Japan is hiring foreign talent and it is now a top priority that international students attending Japanese universities stay on in the country, with the government offering new incentives such as subsidised company internships, help with finding jobs on graduation, stepped-up Japanese language courses and more streamlined processes for work visas after graduation.

As part of its Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016 set out last June, the government set a goal of raising the employment rate of foreign students in Japan from just under 35% of those graduating to 50% by 2020.

“Foreign graduates are becoming increasingly attractive for local companies who want their multilingual and global backgrounds mixed with their Japanese experience,” said Mei Mizoguchi of NODE, a recruiting company matching graduates from Southeast Asia with Japanese companies.

NODE has more than 3,000 Asian graduates and 70 Japanese companies registered on its online employment site. Japanese companies are mainly searching for foreign engineers, translators or sales managers for their overseas branches in Southeast Asia. Some 50 graduates found employment in 2016 and Mizoguchi expects numbers to expand rapidly.

“I see major changes in the Japanese labour market as more companies plan to move overseas. They need international staff to survive,” she explained.

New measures to retain foreign students

New measures being devised by the ministry of education to retain ‘excellent’ foreign students will be rolled out in 30 regions of the country.

The proposals include support offices with the backing of municipalities and local companies, to act as an intermediary between foreign students and small businesses in the regions, as well as new month-long internships, with the costs to the companies involved subsidised by the ministry, with some conditions attached.

The cost of Japanese language courses to get foreign students up to speed may also be covered under this scheme.

The latest statistics, based on work visas issued to overseas students by the Ministry of Justice, show a record 15,657 foreign graduates found jobs in 2015 – a 21% rise on the previous year or double the number compared to 2005.

Graduates of four-year undergraduate degree programmes comprised 80% of international employees. Chinese students were 63% of the total, followed by South Koreans and Vietnamese.

Justice Ministry data shows Asian graduates took up 90% of the new jobs, hired mostly in sales and marketing, translation and interpretation, and the information technology sector.

“At Waseda [University] we are seeing more advertisements that say ‘international students may apply’. As sales made overseas by Japanese companies keep growing, they are seriously engaged in securing personnel who can perform in the overseas business,” said Hitomi Sasaki, Waseda University career centre’s director

Waseda University, a leading private higher education institution, says 36% or 346 students were employed in 2015 out of a total of 960 foreign graduates – not all of them sought jobs in Japan – a steep rise compared to 93 of their foreign graduates taking up jobs in Japan in 2009.

Is Japan attractive to foreign students?

Still, Koji Yoshida at the government-supported Employment Service Center for Foreigners, says the rising number still lags behind what is needed to show Japan is an attractive destination for foreign students.

Overall, international students now number almost 258,000, which means that less than 10% are currently employed in Japan compared to 97% of Japanese graduates who found employment in 2015. Japan’s foreign labour force at just one million, while growing, is still a tiny proportion of the 65 million national workforce.

Yoshida points to the sobering challenge of overcoming a mismatch between foreign students and Japanese companies who want to hire overseas graduates “but expect them to possess language skills on par with native speakers which is not realistic”.

He adds that work visas for foreigners in Japan are granted only for specific jobs to protect local employment.

“All this contributes to foreign graduates, who find work through us, having to be resigned to jobs in IT sectors or as interpreters in duty free zones like international airports. They are disappointed,” said Yoshida.

The Ministry of Justice, responsible for immigration issues, is to simplify the bureaucracy required to change student visas to post-study work visas, but is unlikely to significantly broaden the areas of employment that will qualify.

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, or APU, in Beppu
offers a four-year programme taught in English. Vice-president Kenji Yokoyama explains that more than 85% of their foreign and Japanese graduates are successful in entering Japanese companies because of their internationally competitive skills.

“APU attracts foreign students who already have high English ability in their countries which gives them an edge in the global job market. Those looking to stay in Japan are snapped up by big companies,” he said. But many of them decide to leave their jobs after just a few years for new companies or further study abroad, he notes.

“If Japanese companies want to hire the best foreign graduates they must be given the same opportunities as their Japanese counterparts when it comes to promotion and decision-making positions,” he said.