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Japan immigration

Foreign graduates to gain wider job options in Japan

Proposed new residency rules allow work outside their field of study

A international exchange student in Japan attends a career fair in Tokyo. Foreign graduates are restricted from working in fields outside their area of study, preventing many from staying in the country. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- Japan will open up a wider path to residency status for international students as soon as next spring, allowing them to work in any field after graduation as long as they clear an annual income threshold of 3 million yen ($26,900).

The move comes amid a worsening labor shortage that has seen Japan relax other immigration rules to attract and retain talent.

Foreign graduates of Japanese universities who seek to stay in the country face residency requirements that limit them to jobs in their field of study. Under the proposed new program, graduates would be able to take employment in any Japanese-speaking job that provides the required income level. 

The Ministry of Justice is expected to consider multiple proposals for defining the new residency status, including changes to the nation's immigration law.

The current residency status rules, which divide applicants into such categories as engineering and humanities, have been criticized for constraining job seekers' options.

The proposed income requirement is already applied to applicants for permanent residence. The average annual income for private-sector employees working one to four years in Japan is 3.03 million yen, according to a 2016 study by National Tax Agency.

Separately, foreign graduates of local vocational schools would be allowed to work in a broad range of jobs related to Japanese culture, such as anime, manga and food, if they studied such skills at school.

In animation, for example, they would be allowed to do not only such advanced work as design, but also assistant jobs like background coloring. Accepting diverse talent will help advance the government's Cool Japan soft-power strategy. 

Only 8,367 international students who graduated from Japanese universities were hired for jobs in the country in fiscal 2015. This accounted for about 35% of all foreign graduates -- well below  the government's target of half.

"We want to create a residency status that covers a wider range of activities so that most people graduating from Japanese universities can find work in some form," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in August.

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