4 common misunderstandings about the student / work visa among foreigners in Japan

Written for and also published for Why Japan

Ah visas. The little stamps and pieces of paper that permit us to come into Japan. So small, so important and yet so difficult to understand.

It is precisely because these are hard to understand that there are quite a few misunderstandings that many students and working foreigners have about the student and working visas. Some of these misunderstandings lead to missed opportunities. Some of the others can cause legal trouble.

It is because of this that I want to address in this article four of the most common and in my view student-visa related misunderstandings that are prevalent.

Do note that I am not a qualified immigration lawyer. However, given the work that I do regarding foreign students, I do believe that the following information is accurate. And I will be citing my sources below to ensure validity.

Misunderstanding 1: The baito permit only allows you to do baito.

There's more freedom to the permit than just the "typical baito"
There’s more freedom to the permit than just the “typical baito”

Most students in Japan are probably aware of the shikakugai katsudo kyoka (permission to do activities outside your visa class). In short, the student visa in itself allows you to be a student in Japan and does not in itself come with the ability to do part-time work (baito). Therefore many (if not a majority) of foreign students will seek and receive the permit to do part-time work to supplement your income.

There is already a small misunderstanding about the numbers of hours allowed. Do be aware that the 28 hour limit only applies during term time. Outside term time (ie. during school holidays) the limit rises to 40 hours with a daily maximum of 8 hours.

But aside from this point about the numbers, another common misunderstanding is that this permit only allows you to do baito. Actually under activities that students can do outside your visa class, you can have a sole-proprietorship and do freelance work (which is different from baito because you are not salaried by the hour). You can even do “activities aimed towards entrepreneurship in Japan”.

Do be aware that current rules split the shikakugai katsudo kyoka into a general permit (包括許可) and permits which require individual permission (個別許可) (it used to be different). The most relevant parts of this are that you do activities where (1) your work hours are not stated nor cannot be objectively proved or are (2) entrepreneurship related activities you are required to submit a separate application with an explanation of your intended activities for approval to immigration. But the key point is that these are possible activities that you can engage in while being a student.

Do be aware that this is to the extent that your main visa activity is not affected. You risk having your visa cancelled if there is obvious evidence that for example, your work is affecting your studies.

Misunderstanding 2: You can stay in Japan for as long as your visa is valid, even after graduation

Your time is ticking
Your time is ticking

No. Your student visa is only valid to the extent that you are doing the activity relevant to the visa. No matter how long is left written on your residence card after you graduate, your visa is no longer valid once you graduate. (Multiple university websites state this clearly)

To be exact, you have 2 weeks from the date of your graduation to report to immigration that your visa has changed and to apply for another visa – be it the work visa, the job-hunting visa, the preparation to leave Japan status or others.

You may know of people who have gotten away with this by writing explanation letters and kowtowing to immigration but I do not suggest this. You never know when immigration will suddenly crack down so it is best to play on the safe side.

Side note for the working visa – if you leave your job you have 3 months to find a new job before your work visa becomes invalid.

Misunderstanding 3: You must find a job in your field

You really don't have to pigeonhole yourself that much
You really don’t have to pigeonhole yourself that much

Many countries visa regimens state that foreigners applying for a job have to show educational qualifications or experience relevant to the job they are applying for. And actually Japan’s immigration policy also states this too.

However, you may have heard of quite a few exceptions. A kohai of mine for example, graduated with an economics degree only to get a job immediately after graduation as a system engineer. So what gives? Is she doing something illegal?

No – this is perfectly within the bounds of immigration rules. To quote an immigration lawyer acquaintance of mine,

“Because the Japanese law defines a 4 year and above degree as providing general and widely applicable education. This means that your exact major or research area in school does not have to match that closely with your job”.

Do be aware that this does not apply to graduates from specialist schools as specialist schools are not defined as providing general skills. Also, especially if you are applying for the Technical / Humanities / Global Business (人文・技術・国際業務) visa, your work is expected to be – for lack of a better word – “white collar”. In fact, we are hearing stories recently that immigration has been particularly suspicious and stricter in recent years about foreign students applying for jobs in factories for fear that they end up as manual labor.

But anyway, if you have or are going to have a 4 year university degree, do be aware that your chances are wider than your exact degree and this is possible one factor which can make it easy for you to start your career here.

Misunderstanding 4: You have to get the highly-skilled visa for a quicker permanent residency

There may be a hidden route that gets to the same destination
There may be a hidden route that gets to the same destination

This is more of a technicality but actually even without holding the highly-skilled visa, as long as you can prove that you would have had 70 points for 3 years (or 80 points for 1 year) at the time that you apply for permanent residency, you can receive the same consideration as if you had the highly-skilled visa. The immigration bureau’s website actually makes this explicit by noting how the expedited PR applies also to people who “would have had 80 points at both the point of the PR application and one year before” (and the same with 70 points but 3 years before).

In fact it is because of this that I don’t actually recommend that people apply for the highly-skilled visa. This is because with the highly-skilled visa job-switching becomes more painful given that you have to recalculate your points each time with immigration for them to check if you still have the needed points.

The benefits which holding the highly-skilled visa bring are also quite limited and probably not applicable to the majority of the people who can hold it. For your information, and taken directly from the Ministry of Justice website these include:

  • The ability to bring your parents or a caretaker from overseas to Japan to live with you for childcare purposes (subject to conditions)
  • Loosened restrictions for your spouse’s ability to work in Japan
  • The ability to hold more than one visa-class at the same time
  • A guarantee to receive a 5 year visa if you qualify for the highly-skilled visa
  • Priority processing of visa related procedures

If any of the above is a big consideration for you, then by all means the highly-skilled visa may be a great help for you. Otherwise though, it may not be worth the trouble.

There’s actually more…

There’s actually quite a few more common misunderstandings or ambiguities (like the conditions to apply for the permanent residency normally). I may write another article on these topics at a later date.

I hope that this article has cleared up some doubts though. Feel free to leave in the comments any things you wish you had an explanation about. That may give me some ideas on how to write a continuation of this article.


  • Posted April 20, 2021
    by Sai

    Thanks Austin, great article ! It’ll be interesting if you could continue on the lines of best ways / pros and cons of getting a PR or the likes of your point on Misunderstanding 4.

    • Posted April 20, 2021
      by AustZ

      Hmm! Not many cons of getting the PR I think. There is a technical tax concern with living long term in Japan but that is separate from the PR per se.

  • Posted August 31, 2021
    by Lu

    Woah! Thanks Austin this is a very informative article. It’s the first time I heard many topics that you put it here.

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