Volume 3(2014)

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Japan’s Highly Skilled Foreign Professional Visa: an early assessment

David Green

Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Law, Nagoya University, Japan


Japan’s point-based Highly Skilled Foreign Professional visa, implemented in May 2012, represents a new step in courting skilled foreign labor. The visa provides benefits unprecedented in Japan, yet application numbers remain below expectations. Utilizing new survey data, this paper considers the visa in detail from the applicant perspective. Results indicate that while the benefits offered are positively regarded, they are overly restricted and skewed toward longer term residents. The new visa also suffers from unclear application requirements, as well as inconsistency in its goals and ideal candidates. The Japanese case consequently provides some evidence that competitive benefits alone are insufficient to successfully attract skilled foreign labor.



Japan is a late arrival in the global competition for foreign talent. A traditionally immigration-averse nation, demographic and economic realities have inspired the country to take a more active stance recruiting highly skilled foreign workers. In May 2012, the government implemented a new points-based visa for “highly skilled foreign professionals”, offering an unprecedented array of benefits and fewer restrictions compared to other visa categories. Yet in spite of high government hopes, applications for the new visa have been far below expectations.

This paper considers why the Highly Skilled Foreign Professional (HSFP) visa has under-performed. In order to do so, we will compare the HSFP visa to similar schemes outside of Japan and examine in detail new, individual-level survey data focusing on the visa. I argue that immediate changes can be made to the HSFP visa to improve its attractiveness, and information regarding the visa should be clarified and more actively disseminated.


In discussing skilled and highly skilled migration a good place to start is to clarify exactly what these terms entail. The widely-adopted definition of a skilled migrant is that they possess at least a tertiary degree (Salt 1997). Highly skilled migrants distinguish themselves with a higher level of education or abilities. Discerning the difference between a skilled versus highly skilled worker can be somewhat arbitrary. With the O visa for “individuals with extraordinary abilities or achievement”, the United States government describes highly qualified individuals as persons that “demonstrate extraordinary ability or sustained national or international acclaim”. For the fields of science, education, business and athletics this means they have “a level of expertise indicating that the person is one of a small percentage who has risen to the very top of the field of endeavor” (USCIS 2011). Likewise, the United Kingdom maintains a similar visa for “exceptional talent” as a part of its tiered working visa program. Only those who receive an endorsement from officially designated bodies as an “internationally recognized leader or emerging leader” in their field are eligible (UK Gov 2014).