How to Get a Working visa in Japan without University Degree
Young, motivated, maybe even with work experience under the belt – and ready to move your life to Japan. The only issue: you never graduated from university. Is there really no way around it?
The crux with working visa
Getting a working visa in Japan always follows the same pattern. A company wants to hire you, they agree to sponsor your visa, and the immigration office confirms whether all the documents are in order and checks that you graduated university.
READ ON Guide to Japan’s visa types
You might find a company that would love to hire you and is willing to sponsor a working visa, but without the university graduation they cannot do it. In the country where around 90% of its population went to university, anyone who did not is structurally excluded from working visa.
The fact that other countries have institutions similar to Japan’s senmon gakko (専門学校, vocational school), that for some professions university degrees are simply not available, that people with apprenticeships may be better designers than the design bachelor with the ink on his graduation papers still drying – all these things don’t matter, as long as your professional education didn’t happen at a place labeled university or college.
Specified Skilled Worker Visa
This new visa makes it possible to work in specific professions and industries even without a degree. Positions are available in 14 industries that are impacted most by Japan’s beginning labor shortage, including nursing, construction, gastronomy, agriculture, and more.
Applicants need to have a basic understanding of the Japanese language and profession-specific skills, as set by each industry. Once granted, the visa allows holders to stay in Japan for a maximum of 5 years.
Visa for people with work experience
Japan does have special working visas for skilled labor, so if you are a cook, sports trainer, jeweler or the like you can get a working visa for Japan. The catch is that these visas are limited to certain professions and you need to have a considerable amount of expertise and work experience. More specifically, you need to provide certificates of employment (在職証明書, ざいしょくしょうめいしょ) from all the (relevant) places you’ve worked at.
The same goes for the ‘Specialist in Humanities / International Services Visa.’ While it usually requires a university degree it is also available to those with enough relevant work experience.
How much experience you need depends on the job category. Generally, applicants need to prove that they have at least 10 years of work experience. For some professions, the requirement can be as low as 3 years.
Keep in mind that all experience has to be relevant to your position in Japan. For example, if you want to work as an IT engineer, you need 10 years of experience in that specific field. Even if you’ve already worked for 12 years back home, you won’t be able to pass the requirements if you spent 3 on them in a position that didn’t require any IT engineering.
Short-term options: Student or Working Holiday
Going back to school can also be a transitioning option for some. Enrolling at one of Japan’s universities or senmon gakko (often only 2 years) would be a straightforward solution if you can afford the college fees. That way you get your university graduation, while already living in Japan and perfecting your Japanese.
For those lucky enough to live in one of the eligible countries, a Working Holiday is the easiest way to live and work in Japan for some time (6-12 months).
Investor/ Business Manager
How about starting your own company? Entrepreneurial types with more than ¥5million capital and a detailed business plan, can start their own companies in Japan. This involves a lot of tough paperwork, but a college diploma is not part of the requirements.
It is possible to sponsor your own visa, but this option requires time to prepare and comes with conditions attached.
Self-sponsorship is possible for the following professions: artist, journalist, researcher, engineer, specialist in humanities/international services, skilled labor.
All you need to do is prove that you earn at least ¥3 million a year through freelance work or however many part-time jobs you can manage. All the work you do needs to fall into one single visa category.
Sounds good, but checking the detailed conditions for self-sponsorship can make one want to wave the white flag.
The most common way to get self-sponsorship at the beginning of your career is AFTER having been employed by a Japanese company with a working visa for at least one year. Back to square one with the degree. Out. Generally, a college degree is required to be eligible for self-sponsorship. Out.
Now there is a middle way: if you have some working experience of at least three years in a certain field, for instance, translation, web design, etc., then you are also eligible for self-sponsorship. Some professions like engineers are excluded, requiring the 10 years of experience.
In this case get in touch with Japanese companies and be persistent when dealing with the immigration office. It is possible to apply from abroad.
Yet another option is to join a company in your home country that has offices in Japan, and hope to get transferred to their Japan office after a while. These assignments are often 1-3 years, giving you enough time to experience the country. During your stay other opportunities might open up, who knows.
What should you do?
Exchange programs, scholarships, and other short-term options remain great opportunities to experience Japan beyond the façade that tourists see. Even these short stays give a reality check and can make or break the desire to work in Japan. Short and mid-terms stays are a great opportunity to start your job search, since it is a lot easier to find employment in Japan if you are on site and available for face-to-face meetings.
For many the new specified skills visa will finally make it possible to find employment in Japan. Check out the requirements for the field you are interested in early on, so you can get language or others skills if necessary.
To anyone who is still in school and wants to work in Japan I’d still recommend to get that university degree if you can. The major or grades don’t really matter, but this one piece of paper will open a lot more doors for you.
Business manners, the intricacies of the job-hunting process in Japan, all these are things you can learn in a short amount of time if necessary. Having a degree and strong Japanese skills are the two main factors your job application hinges on. Make them a priority to get a good job in Japan.
(last updated: November 18th, 2019)