National

Japanese-language students from South Asian countries see plunge in visa approval rates

Kyodo

The approval rate for visa applications by nationals of countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh to study at Japanese-language schools from April is sharply down from the same month last year, school operators in Japan said Wednesday.

The plunge in the percentage of visas that were approved appears to reflect efforts to crack down on foreign nationals who enter the nation to work under the guise of being students.

A survey by the Japanese Language School Association in Tokyo showed that student visas were granted to just 15 percent of applicants from Myanmar, down sharply from the 76 percent approval rate seen last year, and to 21 percent of Bangladeshi applicants, down from 61 percent. The success rate for Sri Lankan applicants was 21 percent, down from 50 percent.

The percentage of visas granted to applicants from China and South Korea remained above 90 percent.

The survey drew responses from 327 of the 708 Japanese-language schools throughout the country and collected figures regarding applications for student resident status from April, when such applications peak with the start of the new academic year.

In the Kanto-Koshinetsu region, where cases involving student visas being misused for work purposes are believed to be concentrated, the percentage of successful applications from Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan nationals dropped below 1 percent.

The decline in the percentage of visa approvals started to become prominent from October last year, the association said.

“This is the result of our response to an increasing number of applicants submitting false documents,” an official at the Immigration Services Agency said. “We strictly examined applications from countries that had sent many students who ended up illegally residing or working (in Japan).”

According to data from the Justice Ministry, the number of foreign students at Japanese-language schools and other institutions stood at around 330,000 in 2018, an increase of around 140,000 in five years. The number of overstayers rose from 2,777 in 2014 to 4,100 in 2018, the data showed.

The Immigration Services Agency stated Wednesday that 412 foreign nationals living in Japan were stripped of their student status in 2018 for failing to meet the visa requirements. The previous year, 172 lost their student visas for that reason.

The tightening of regulations on student visas coincides with a push by Tokyo for adoption of two new categories of working visa, introduced this April, to bring in more mainly blue-collar foreign workers to labor-hungry sectors in the country.

Foreign nationals on student visas can only legally work up to 28 hours a week, but those with the new visa status of skilled worker can work as much as their Japanese counterparts.

With Japan facing a severe labor shortage for positions at convenience stores, restaurants and factories due to the rapid graying of its population, some employers hiring many foreign students have voiced concerns about the tightening of student visa regulations.

“It would hurt my business if I were to lose (students), who work without rest,” said the 25-year-old owner of a grilled chicken restaurant chain in Nagoya, where 90 percent of the staff are Nepalese students.