What foreigners need to know to work in Japan

2022/1/24 Updated

In recent years, the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan has been increasing. As a result of visiting Japan and experiencing its culture and lifestyle, more and more foreigners are thinking about living or working in Japan.

However, unlike visiting Japan for sightseeing, it is not easy to “live in Japan” or “work in Japan. In order to live in Japan, you need to apply to the government for a status of residence, and in order to work in Japan, you need to have a status of residence that allows you to work.

In this section, we will take a look at the types of status of residence required to work in Japan, as well as the new status of residence “Special Skills” that was introduced in April 2019 with the aim of alleviating Japan’s serious labor shortage.

Types of status of residence and employment

Currently, there are 29 types of status of residence, and the activities that can be performed in Japan vary depending on the status.

List of status of residence

  1. diplomacy
  2. official
  3. Professor
  4. The Arts
  5. Religion
  6. news
  7. highly specialized profession
  8. Management and administration
  9. Legal and accounting services
  10. medical care
  11. Research
  12. Education
  13. Technical, humanities, and international services
  14. corporate intra-company transfer muscle
  15. care
  16. show business
  17. ability
  18. specific skill
  19. technical training
  20. Cultural Activities
  21. short stay
  22. studying abroad (usu. at university level)
  23. Training
  24. dependent (e.g. in a family)
  25. specific activity
  26. permanent resident
  27. Spouse, etc. of a Japanese national
  28. Spouse, etc. of permanent resident
  29. long-term resident

Reference: List of status of residence

There are no restrictions on activities in Japan for “permanent residents,” “spouses of Japanese nationals,” “spouses of permanent residents,” and “permanent residents,” which are referred to as “status category qualifications,” so they are free to work in any type of occupation.

On the other hand, “Cultural Activities,” “Temporary Visitor,” “Study Abroad,” “Training,” and “Family Stay” status holders are not allowed to work in Japan. (If you want to work in Japan, you need to obtain “permission to engage in activities other than those permitted under the status of residence previously granted.

In addition, “specified activities” include a wide range of activities, so even among foreigners who have the same specified activities visa, the activities they engage in will differ greatly. The “specified activities” also include “working holiday” and “internship”, which allow you to work in Japan with some restrictions.

The remaining residence statuses, such as “Professor,” “Education,” and “Technical Internship,” can be obtained only after clearly defining the activities to be conducted in Japan, such as “conducting research and education as a university professor at a Japanese university,” “working as an English teacher at a junior high school,” or “learning Japanese skills and knowledge through practical work. You will be able to work in Japan only within the scope of your application for status of residence.
Therefore, if you want to work in a different field than the one you applied for, you must change your status.

Newly established status of residence “Special Skills

As mentioned above, there are severe restrictions for foreigners to work in Japan.
Under such circumstances, a new qualification called “Specified Skills” will be established in April 2019 as a countermeasure to Japan’s serious labor shortage.

Differences between “Special Skills” and existing resident statuses

Specific skills have been newly established to expand the acceptance of foreign workers and increase the number of foreign workers in order to solve the labor shortage in Japan.
Fourteen specific industrial fields designated by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), and other ministries and agencies are now able to accept foreign workers with specified technical qualifications (Foreigners with Specified Skills).

14 specific industrial sectors

  1. nursing-care industry
  2. Building cleaning business
  3. forges and foundries
  4. Industrial machinery manufacturing
  5. Electrical and electronics information-related industries
  6. construction industry
  7. Shipbuilding and Marine Industry
  8. Automobile maintenance business
  9. aviation industry
  10. lodging business
  11. agriculture
  12. fishing (industry)
  13. Food and beverage manufacturing
  14. food service industry

Reference: Acceptance of New Foreign Human Resources – Operational Policies by Field (14 fields )

Unlike “Technical Intern Training,” which aims to transfer technology, “Specific Skills” is a status of residence that aims to solve the labor shortage. Since the purpose is to secure the labor force itself, a wide range of work can be performed in the fields covered by the “Special Skills” visa.

Comparison of Technical Internship and Specified Skills Systems (Overview)
(Excerpted from the Immigration and Refugee Management Agency’s “Resident Status: Specified Skills” )

Technical Internship (Group Supervision Type) Specified skills (No.1)
related laws and regulations Act on the Proper Implementation of Technical Training for Foreign Nationals and the Protection of Technical Interns / Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act
status of residence (in Japan) Technical Internship” status of residence Status of Residence “Special Skills
period of stay Technical internship 1: within 1 year, Technical internship 2: within 2 years,
Technical internship 3: within 2 years (maximum 5 years in total)
Total of 5 years
Skill level of foreign nationals None Significant knowledge or experience is required.
Examination at the time of entry into Japan None
(Only nursing care occupations require N4 level Japanese language proficiency upon entry)
Confirmation of skill level and Japanese language proficiency level by examination, etc.
(Those who have successfully completed Technical Training 2 are exempted from examination, etc.)
sending entity An organization recommended or accredited by a foreign government None
supervisory organization Yes
(Non-profit business cooperatives, etc. conduct audits and other supervisory work for training providers.
(License required by the competent minister)
Support Organizations None Yes
(Individuals or organizations provide housing
and other support to foreign nationals with specified skills on behalf of the receiving organization. (Registration required by the Immigration and Refugee Management Agency)
Matching of foreign nationals with host institutions Usually done through a supervisory body and sending agency The host institution can recruit overseas directly or through domestic or international intermediaries
Host institution’s
headcount quota
There is a quota based on the total number of full-time employees. No quota on the number of people (except for the nursing care and construction sectors)
Activities Activities to receive training and engage in work related to skills, etc., based on the technical training plan.
Activities to engage in work requiring skills, etc., based on the technical training plan (No.1)
Activities to engage in work requiring skills, etc., based on the technical training plan (No.2, No.3) (No. 2,
No. 3) (Non-professional and technical fields)
Activities that involve work that requires skills that require a significant degree of knowledge or experience.
(Professional and technical fields)
Transferring or changing jobs In principle, this is not allowed. However, in unavoidable cases such as bankruptcy of the training provider, or when transferring from No. 2 or
to No. 3, transfer is possible.
It is possible to change jobs within the same job category or between job categories where the commonality of the skill level has been confirmed by testing.

With the “Special Skills” qualification, more and more foreign workers are expected to work in Japan in the future, especially in small and medium-sized companies where there is a serious labor shortage.

Requirements for acquiring specific skills

Looking at specific skills in more detail, there are two types of specific skills: “No.1” and “No.2”.

If a foreign worker who has completed five years of work experience wishes to continue working in Japan and has been certified through an examination or other means that he or she possesses the necessary skills, he or she will be allowed to transfer to designated skill No. 2. If the foreign worker has five years of work experience and wishes to continue working in Japan, and if it is proven through examinations and other means that he or she possesses the necessary skills, the foreign worker will be allowed to transfer to the specified skills category. (At present, only two of the 14 fields, “construction” and “shipbuilding/marine construction,” are approved for the transition, and the examination is scheduled to begin in fiscal 2021.

In addition, not all foreign nationals are able to obtain the status of residence for specific skills.
First of all, there is a restriction on nationality, and it is limited to foreigners who are citizens of countries that have concluded bilateral agreements with Japan.
Currently, nine countries are covered: Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Mongolia.


There are severe restrictions for foreigners to work in Japan, but this situation is changing with the “Specially Designated Technical Skills” status of residence. Currently, only nine countries are eligible for the “Specially Skilled Worker” status, but it is expected that the number of countries that can accept foreign nationals will increase in the future.

Recruitment of foreigners will become more and more popular.
Japanese companies, as employers, need to understand the qualifications required for foreigners to work in Japan, and work on their recruitment activities.

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