Work Permits for Employees in Japan: A Complete Guide for Employers


May 24, 2023

If you're a hiring manager seeking to expand operations into the Land of the Rising Sun, then understanding the intricacies of obtaining work permits in Japan should be a top priority. Japan's reputation for meticulous attention to detail, strict adherence to rules, and bureaucratic rigor apply to immigration and work laws as much as any other aspect of life. Navigating these rules effectively is crucial to avoid potential penalties such as fines or damaging your company's reputation, and to ensure a smooth transition for your foreign employees.

What is a work permit in Japan?

In Japan, the term “work permit” doesn't refer to a separate document, but to the status of residence provided on your employees' visas. These statuses indicate the permitted activities foreign nationals can engage in during their stay, as defined by Japanese immigration law.

There are numerous categories, reflecting Japan's diverse economy and societal needs. For employers looking to hire foreign professionals, the most likely relevant status would be the "Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services." This category encompasses a wide range of occupations, from engineering and IT professionals to language instructors, making it particularly pertinent for international businesses seeking to establish a presence in Japan.

Who needs a work permit in Japan?

As a rule of thumb, any foreign national planning to work in Japan needs to have the appropriate work permit, signifying their status of residence. This includes individuals from all nations who are not citizens of Japan. However, there are several exceptions to this rule.

For example, those who hold permanent resident status, those married to Japanese nationals, or those with "Long-Term Resident" status do not require a separate work permit. It's important to note that Japanese society places great emphasis on orderliness and punctuality, so ensuring your employees' immigration statuses are in order well in advance is vital.

How long does it take to get a work permit in Japan?

The entire process takes at least 5 days and can take up to three months. This duration is subject to timely and correct document submission from your end, and the processing speed of Japanese immigration authorities.

In Japan, patience is regarded as a virtue, and this principle applies to administrative processes as well. As a hiring manager, understanding and explaining this timeline to prospective employees can save them from unnecessary anxiety and can foster better planning for the transition.

Types of work visas in Japan

In Japan, there are several types of work permits or visas that employers should be aware of, each tailored to cater to a variety of employment circumstances. The most relevant types are detailed below:

  • Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services: This category caters to foreign nationals involved in highly skilled professions requiring specific technical knowledge or skills. This could include sciences, engineering, or human sciences, as well as those providing guidance on supplier services or international services.
  • Intra-company Transferee Visa: Ideal for employees who are being transferred to the Japanese branch of their current employer. This category requires the employee to have worked for the company for at least one year before the proposed transfer.
  • Business Manager Visa: This is intended for individuals intending to start or manage a business in Japan. It requires a concrete business plan, office space, and either JPY 5 million in investment or the potential to create full-time employment for two locals.
  • Highly Skilled Professional Visa: This is a points-based system aimed at attracting highly skilled foreign professionals. Points are awarded based on factors such as academic background, professional experience, and salary. This visa comes with several benefits, including a longer period of stay and the ability to bring along family members.
  • Specified Skilled Worker Visa (SSV): Introduced in 2019, this visa allows semi-skilled workers to work in Japan. There are two categories: SSV1 for those who cannot bring their family members, and SSV2 for those with more advanced skills and allows the holder to bring their family members.
  • Working Holiday Visa: This visa allows young people from certain countries to travel and work in Japan for up to a year. It’s a great option for freelancers or contractors from eligible countries who want to experience living in Japan.
  • Medical Services Visa and Nursing Care Visa: These are designed for foreign nationals who intend to engage in medical services or provide nursing care that requires technical skills or knowledge pertinent to physical or mental health.

Each type of work permit has different requirements regarding education, professional experience, and other factors. It's important to assess which one aligns with your employee's qualifications and the role they will play in your organization. Remember that Japan’s immigration law is strict and highly regulated, so it's essential to carefully prepare the application documents to avoid potential pitfalls or delays in the process.

Application process for Japanese work visas

As an employer, the visa application process for your prospective employee entails a few steps:

  1. Certificate of Eligibility (COE): First, you must apply for a COE from the regional immigration office in Japan. This document essentially attests that the employee satisfies the conditions for the work permit. You'll need to provide detailed information about your company, the position, and the applicant.
  2. Visa Application: Once you obtain the COE, it should be sent to the employee, who will then submit it, along with their visa application, to the Japanese embassy or consulate in their home country.
  3. Issuance of Visa and Residence Card: If successful, a visa will be issued for the employee to travel to Japan. Upon arrival, they will be given a Residence Card, which they should carry at all times.

It's important to note that Japanese officials are meticulous in their review of documents, so ensure all information provided is accurate and complete.

Frequently asked questions about work permits for employees in Japan

Do US citizens need a work permit to work in Japan?

Yes, U.S. citizens are required to have the appropriate work permit to work in Japan, just like any other foreign worker. The type of work permit depends on the nature of the work they intend to do. It's important to ensure that your American employees secure the correct permit, to avoid any legal complications and respect the stringent immigration laws of Japan.

What are the required documents for applying for a Japanese work permit?

The documents required can vary depending on the type of work visa applied for but typically include a valid passport, visa application form, passport-sized photograph, and the original Certificate of Eligibility (COE) issued by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. Additional supporting documents might be necessary depending on the specific circumstances of the employee and the employer.

What’s the fastest way to get a work permit in Japan?

The quickest way to secure a work permit is to start the process early and ensure all the necessary paperwork is accurately filled out and submitted promptly. As an employer, it's crucial to provide your employees with the information and support they need to apply for their visas, such as securing the COE on their behalf. The Japanese authorities appreciate attention to detail, so meticulous preparation can help expedite the process.

How much does it cost to get a Japanese work permit?

Costs associated with obtaining a work permit in Japan vary depending on the type of visa and any intermediary services used. However, the standard fee charged by the Japanese government for issuing a single-entry visa is 3,000 yen, while for a multiple-entry visa, it's 6,000 yen. Please note that these costs are subject to change and should be verified with the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate.

Are family members included in work visa applications in Japan?

Family members are not automatically included in a work visa application. They must apply for a "Dependent" visa if they wish to accompany the employee to Japan. It's essential to ensure that these applications are also handled in a timely and accurate manner, to facilitate a smooth transition for your employee and their family.

How do you renew your Japanese work permit?

Renewing a work permit, or more accurately, the status of residence, involves an application to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. This should be done well before the expiry of the current period of stay, as Japanese authorities require time to process the application.

Is there a limit on the number of work permits you can obtain in Japan?

There isn't a specific limit on the number of work permits a company can secure. However, it's important to note that each work permit is linked to a specific individual and job. Companies are encouraged to uphold the principles of fair hiring and not exceed their actual staffing needs.

What is a re-entry permit in Japan and how do you get one?

A re-entry permit is required if a foreign national in Japan plans to leave and return while maintaining their current visa status. However, as of July 2012, a Special Re-entry Permit system has been established, allowing most foreign nationals to re-enter Japan without having to apply for a re-entry permit, as long as they return within a year.

What is single-entry in Japan?

A single-entry visa allows a foreign national to enter Japan once. If they leave Japan (except for specific circumstances), the visa will no longer be valid for re-entry. It's important for your employees to understand this aspect, especially if they intend to travel frequently.

What is a multiple-entry visa in Japan?

A multiple-entry visa allows a foreign national to leave and re-enter Japan multiple times while the visa remains valid. It offers more flexibility for employees who need to travel frequently for work or personal reasons.

How does income tax work in Japan?

Japan operates a progressive taxation system, with income tax rates ranging from 5% to 45%, depending on the taxpayer's income level. Employers are usually responsible for withholding the necessary amount from an employee's salary each month. Companies should ensure they understand their obligations under the Japanese tax system to avoid any compliance issues.

Is there a withholding tax in Japan? How does it work?

Yes, employers in Japan are obligated to withhold tax from their employee’s salaries and remit it to the tax authorities. The amount withheld depends on the employee's income and tax status. Employers should familiarize themselves with these obligations and may consider engaging the services of a local accounting firm to ensure compliance.

What is the processing time of a Japanese work permit?

The processing time for a Japanese work permit can vary, but generally, it takes about 1 to 3 months from the submission of the application to the issuance of the visa. However, the process can be longer depending on the specific circumstances, such as the time it takes to secure the COE, the volume of applications being processed by the Immigration Services Agency, or any issues with the application itself.

What should an employer do if an employee with a Japanese work permit leaves the company?

If an employee leaves your company, you are required to notify the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. It's important to ensure this process is followed correctly, to avoid any potential legal implications.

Can a work permit be transferred if an employee changes jobs within Japan?

A work permit in Japan is typically tied to the job and the employer for which it was issued. If an employee changes jobs, they may need to apply for a new work permit. They must also notify the Immigration Services Agency of Japan about their change in employment.

What are the rules for remote work for foreign nationals residing in Japan?

Japan doesn’t have specific regulations addressing remote work for foreign nationals. However, any change in work circumstances should be reported to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. Given the evolving nature of work, it's advisable to consult with a legal expert in Japanese immigration law to ensure compliance.

What role does a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) play in the work permit process?

A COE is an important document in the Japanese work permit process. It's issued by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan and serves as proof that the foreign national meets the conditions for the status of residence. The COE must be secured before the employee applies for the visa at a Japanese embassy or consulate in their home country. As an employer, assisting your employees with obtaining the COE can be a crucial part of the hiring process.

What happens if an employee overstays their Japan work visa?

Overstaying a visa is a serious offense in Japan and could result in penalties including detention, fines, and deportation. It could also affect the individual's ability to secure a Japanese visa in the future. As an employer, it's in your interest to ensure that your employees are aware of their visa expiration dates and take the necessary steps for renewal or departure from Japan.

Is it possible for an employee to switch from a work visa to a permanent resident visa?

Yes, it's possible for a foreign national to switch from a work visa to a permanent resident visa, provided they meet certain criteria. These usually include living and working in Japan for a certain period, displaying good conduct, and being able to support themselves financially, among other things. Transitioning to a permanent resident visa allows the individual greater freedom in terms of employment and length of stay in Japan.

What kind of work permit do medical services and nursing care workers need?

Medical services and nursing care workers usually need a type of work permit called the Medical Services Visa or Nursing Care Visa, respectively. These are designed for foreign nationals who intend to engage in medical services or provide nursing care that requires technical skills or knowledge pertinent to physical or mental health. These specialized visas were put in place to ensure that Japan’s health and nursing care sectors meet their staffing needs, especially in the face of an aging population.

What is the difference between the SSV1, SSV2, and Specified Skills Visa in Japan?

The Specified Skills Visa (SSV) is a type of Japanese work permit designed for foreign nationals with certain specific skills. It's divided into two categories: Specified Skills Visa 1 (SSV1) and Specified Skills Visa 2 (SSV2).

SSV1 is for semi-skilled workers. Workers under this category are not allowed to bring family members to Japan and the maximum period of stay is five years in total.

SSV2 is for foreign workers with higher skills. They can bring their family members to Japan and there is no limitation on the period of stay.

The key difference between these two categories lies in the level of skills required, the possibility of bringing family members, and the length of stay permitted.

What is the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) in Japan?

The Certificate of Eligibility (COE) is a document issued by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan that verifies a foreign national's compliance with the conditions for the status of residence. This certificate is an essential part of the Japanese work permit process. It essentially pre-approves the visa applicant for the intended status of residence, making the subsequent visa application process at the Japanese embassy or consulate in the applicant’s home country much smoother.

What kind of work experience do foreign workers need to have to apply for a work visa in Japan?

The required work experience for foreign workers seeking to apply for a work visa in Japan varies depending on the type of work permit or visa category they are applying for.

For example, for a Highly Skilled Professional visa, the applicant should typically have advanced and specialized skills, which often implies a significant amount of relevant work experience. For the Specified Skilled Worker Visa, the applicant is expected to have certain specific skills, knowledge, or experience in particular industries.

In all cases, the work experience needs to be in a field relevant to the job the foreign national intends to do in Japan.

In some cases, having a relevant degree can offset some of the work experience requirements. However, the specific requirements can vary, so it's important to check with the Japanese immigration authorities or a legal professional knowledgeable about Japanese immigration law.

Run your global workforce with Rippling

Rippling can connect you with immigration services to help you sponsor work visas around the world; enquire for more information.

Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.

last edited: May 11, 2024

The Author

The Rippling Team

Global HR, IT, and Finance know-how directly from the Rippling team.