Ian de Stains, OBE is the Executive Director of the BCCJ

Japan has famously been resistant to taking in foreign workers. But a rapidly changing demographic suggests that if the country is to stay competitive, a major shift in attitude will be needed. Just how likely that is to happen remains very much an open question, although in areas such as nursing, steps have been taken to bring in experienced caregivers from the Philippines and offer them Japanese language training. Similarly it has been suggested that the Japanese government is considering extending visas to up to 2,000 IT specialists from India.

Established foreign companies in Japan have little difficulty these days in obtaining visas for their expatriate staff, and life for those staff members is much easier than it used to be just a matter of a decade or so ago. (Though there are ominous signs from certain official quarters that a Japanese language test will soon be factored into visa applications.) Equally, such companies can now draw on an increasing pool of local non-Japanese; people who choose to live and work in Japan without the benefit of an expatriate package—obviously an appealing proposition to the gaishikei HR department with an eye on the bottom line.

In the meantime, the British Chamber—no doubt like many others—still receives letters from people hoping to work here, either because they are seeking an adventure or they are partnered with someone who has been posted here. How best to help them?

Jarrett Schmidt, a recruitment specialist with JAC Japan says the most important thing is to find a job before coming to Japan. These days that almost always means making the effort to learn some Japanese. While there are some exceptions, it is virtually impossible to find a well paying professional position without having at least Level 2 JPLT ability. Those with highly developed skills in IT and engineering are especially well placed to overcome the language and cultural barriers that still exist in the marketplace, but clearly anyone with Japanese language ability is going to have the advantage.

Schmidt points out that if you are content to teach English—and provided you are appropriately qualified, motivated, and is a serious career choice the requirement for Japanese language ability is less important. But he cautions against teaching English as “an easy way in” if what you really want is to do something else. In that case, his advice is to “avoid teaching English at all costs or at least leave it off your resume”.

While it is true that conditions are better than they were, problems still exist, among them xenophobia and, according to Schmidt, “the lingering misconception inside companies that it is difficult and expensive to sponsor a visa”. In fact, the process is neither, though it can be time-consuming.

For more information on recruitment agency JAC Japan see: www.jacjapan.co.jp