The Ugly Face of Japan’s International Student Program

Japan has noticed a surge of foreign students since 2016. It has reached 277,331 or about 100,000 more compared to 2012. This is in line with the government’s goal to accommodate 300,000 foreign students by 2020 (which is very likely to be attained by end of this year). However, the other face of it is this: many foreign students are not here to learn but to earn—and they have subjected themselves to deceitful brokers promising high-paying jobs in Japan. The aftermath often comes in the form of exploitation, overstaying their visas and worse, turning into crimes.


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Chinese nationalities used to be 60% of Japan’s foreign students composition. Recently, the biggest chunk belongs to Vietnamese who have more than quadrupled over the past four years.


Press releases suggest that the interest to study in Japan has grown since Japanese companies have increased their presence in other countries such as Vietnam. However, the actual intention of foreign students is to earn more in Japan. International students are allowed to do part-time jobs of up to 28 hours per week. Riding on this are the promises of deceitful brokers assuring Vietnamese that they will earn ¥200,000–¥300,000 a month, way higher compared to Vietnam’s average monthly income of ¥10,000–¥20,000.


The way to enter the country is thru Japanese language schools which has now mushroomed to about 600 nationwide. Applicants are required to pay about ¥1.5 million up front to cover their first-year tuition, brokers’ fees, and other miscellaneous expenses. Vietnamese take on this hefty challenge by using their entire family’s homes and fields as loan collaterals, and bribing bank and government officials to issue documents that they have sufficient money to support their stay in Japan. The Japanese authorities are turning a blind eye on this as they want to achieve the year 2020 quota of 300,000 international students.


Once they are inside Japan, they look for part-time jobs at convenience stores and restaurants, making ingredients to put in box meals at supermarkets, sorting parcels for home delivery, cleaning hotel rooms, and delivering newspapers. These are all nighttime manual labor that Japanese employees do not like doing. Even if these part-timers take multiple jobs, the promised income of ¥200,000–¥300,000 is still impossible. Their families back home are faced with shame and financial ruins. This in turn force them to continue working in Japan, even if their visas have already expired, just to pay their debts. As of January 1, 2017, there have been 65,270 overstaying foreigners in Japan and 5,137 of these are Vietnamese, an increasing number in the past three years.


With debts back in Vietnam, illegal overstaying in Japan and minimum income, some have resorted to robbery and shoplifting in order to send money back to their country. A sad reality that Japan and other countries need to look into for everyone’s welfare.


Reference: Money Dreams: Foreign Students to Japan Face Growing Risks


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