The percentage of successful visa applications by nationals of countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh to study from this April at Japanese-language schools was sharply down from the same month last year due to stricter screening, school operators said Wednesday.
The plunge in the percentage of visas granted reflects Japan's efforts to crack down on foreigners who enter the country to work under the guise of being students.
A survey by the Japanese Language School Association in Tokyo showed student visas were granted to just 15 percent of applicants from Myanmar, down sharply from 76 percent 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.
(File photo. Persons pictured are unrelated to this story.)
The survey drew responses from 327 of the 708 Japanese-language schools throughout the country and collected figures for applications for student resident status from April, when such applications peak in line with the start of the new academic year.
The percentage of visas granted to applicants from China and South Korea stayed above 90 percent.
In the Kanto-Koshinetsu region centered on Tokyo, where those abusing student visas as a cover to work 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. We strictly examined applications from countries that had sent many students who ended up illegally residing or working (in Japan)," an official of the Immigration Services Agency said.
The agency also said Wednesday 412 foreigners living in Japan were stripped of their student status in 2018, more than double the 172 who lost their student visas the year before, for failing to follow requirements.
The tightening of regulations on student visas signals Tokyo's push to shift to a new visa program introduced this April to bring in more mainly blue-collar foreign workers to the country's labor-hungry sectors.
Foreigners 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 in such sectors as convenience stores, restaurants and factories due to the rapid aging 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 (the 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.
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, many of whom are believed to have entered Japan for work under the guise of being students, shot up to 4,100 in 2018 from 2,777 in 2014, the data showed.