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Japan immigration

Japan lures foreigners to local universities with visa incentive

More schools outside big cities will count toward high-skill residency status

A foreign student attends class at a university in Oita Prefecture. The government is moving to make it easier for graduates of regional schools to get work visas and remain in those areas. 

TOKYO -- Japan will make it easier for foreign graduates of regional universities to get visas as highly skilled professionals, a move designed to steer students toward rural areas badly in need of young talent.

The government will make certain regional universities eligible for a point-based visa program for highly skilled foreign workers, granting graduates of those schools points that count toward residency status. Currently only 13 top schools are part of this program, but the number will rise to more than 100 by March.

As Japan starts accepting more foreign workers under a new visa program in April, the government is trying to prevent them from flooding into urban areas that offer higher wages. The hope is that foreign students who go to school in regional cities will choose to stay there if they can acquire visas.

The point-based preferential visa program was introduced in 2012. Points are given based on applicants' academic backgrounds, work history and salaries. Those who score at least 70 qualify for visas for highly skilled workers, which allow them to bring family to Japan and for their spouses to work.

About 13,000 foreigners have received visas under this program as of June. The government aims for 20,000 professionals to earn this status by the end of 2022.

University professors, researchers and corporate executives are among the eligible positions. Holders of a doctoral degree, for example, can get 20 to 30 points on their application while graduates of universities approved by the justice minister gain 10.

The current list of eligible schools includes the University of Tokyo and Waseda, Keio, Hiroshima and Kyushu universities, but schools in less populated regions, like Okayama and Kumamoto universities, will now be added.

Those who do not graduate from a qualifying university can still win highly skilled worker status through their work history and salary. But graduates from the designated schools do have an advantage by getting 10 extra points.

Japan uses global school rankings, such as those of the British magazine Times Higher Education, in selecting eligible schools. The schools that receive aid to become more international under the Education Ministry's own Top Global University Project will also qualify for the program.

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