The Greenlist of English Schools in Japan

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Friday, December 29, 2006

For Americans Wanting to Teach in Japan

"U.S. citizens planning to work in Japan should never enter Japan using a tourist visa or the visa waiver, even if they have been advised to do so. Such actions are illegal and can lead to arrest, incarceration and/or deportation."

--from a pamphlet at the Japanese consulate in Seattle

"The Catch 22 is: if Americans don`t enter Japan on a tourist visa, however, they often cannot work in Japan, as often it takes just too long to secure a working visa. Companies would rather hire someone who already has the appropriate visa, someone who can get the visa quickly, or someone who is willing to break the law, by entering Japan on a tourist visa with the plan to work in Japan by changing it to a working visa. Illegal? Yes. Necessary though? Definitely! Sometimes laws don`t coincide well with reality, and sometimes laws downright discriminate against certain peoples."

-- an English school chain owner in Japan

The citizens of the following countries can secure a working holiday
visa to come to Japan:
New Zealand
Republic of Korea
the United Kingdom

According to the Japanese consulate in Vancouver, you can secure a working holiday visa in as little as three days! A treaty was negotiated between these countries and Japan that allowed for the creation of this visa. This visa allows Australians, Kiwis and Canadians, to name but three, to work in Japan for 12 months and it can be renewed in some cases or switched to another visa after it expires in many cases. Often this kind of visa is secured for work as an English teacher, or for other work such as working in a hotel or a restaurant to name but a few.

Americans who have the yen to come to Japan to work, can only come with a tourist visa or a working visa. Switching from a tourist visa to a working visa happens all the time. Though you won`t catch a Japanese Immigration authority talking about it much. It is one of those open secrets so common to Japan. Certainly, most Americans simply don`t tell immigration that their goal is to come to work in Japan. They say they are sightseeing.

One website about how to get a teaching job in Japan claimed it was a scam if an English school
asks you to come on a tourist visa. It made me chuckle in front of my computer monitor. Getting a working visa can take up to four months. So on the one hand, an Australian can get her visa in a matter of days, but an American can at times wait months.

How does this happen?

Japanese Immigration of course is a government bureau and requires the government to
provide it with money. They use this money to hire personnel amongst other things. If many
people from other countries try to enter Japan at the same time, which usually happens between March-June of each year, there is often a backlog of unissued visas. There are simply
not enough immigration clerks to process the demand at times. So if you are lucky enough
to be able to get a working holiday visa, you can get it in three days and these visas of course
are given priority--they are the first class visas. The working visas are economy class. They
are processed last.

It is too bad that the American government simply doesn`t want such an agreement with Japan. To this author`s knowledge they don`t have a working holiday agreement with any nation.

"The Working Holiday Scheme is intended to promote a greater mutual understanding between our respective countries, and to broaden the international outlook of our young people. The Working Holiday Scheme makes it possible for citizens of one country to enter the other country for an extended holiday while encouraging in temporary employment in order to supplement their travel funds."--Japan Association of Working Holiday Makers

On the Japanese side, perhaps they don`t want a working holiday visa agreement with America simply to promote more diversity in Japan. They want to encourage people from other countries to come. This could simply be the case: restrictions on Americans for diversification of the foreign population here. It would give Japanese a broader exposure to many different nationalities here in Japan, and therefore, a broader view of the world (perhaps it is hoped).

For whatever reason, the Japanese authorities are doing an excellent job of discouraging businesses from hiring Americans, and opting instead for an Aussie, Kiwi or Canuck. In these days of terrorism and war, securing the proper working visa for an American can take up to four months. Though it usually takes much less time.

Employee recruitment companies in Tokyo are also reporting that securing working visas is taking much longer than before, though this seems to be across the board and for all nationalities. If you can get a working holiday visa in three days, you greatly increase your marketability.

Sometimes Japanese laws are unrealistic. The law may state one thing, but the reality of the matter is another. English schools need teachers. Often they need them quickly. Teachers sometimes don`t give any notice and just quit. The English school must hire someone quickly.
It doesn`t mean the English school is bad or out to scam you. They need a good teacher to
fill a vacancy. They may ask you to come on a tourist visa if they really want to hire YOU, and
not someone else.

You do have to go in with open eyes and make sure you are getting into a good situation.
But because of the above mentioned bureaucracy, it is sometimes necessary for Americans
to come on a tourist visa. It is simply a fact of working life in Japan.

Americans themselves, being law abiding citizens on the whole, don`t want to break Japanese laws either. If an English school says, "Come on a tourist visa, we need you now, then we will switch the visa over to a working visa, don`t tell Japanese immigration." Naturally the prospective American teacher is suspicious of the school. The school is essentially telling them to break the law. The school realizes though that the law is forcing them into an untenable situation: They need teachers now! Not in 2-4 months!

One good thing about Japan is that the law often bends. The fact is many Americans if not most, come to Japan on tourist visas then switch to working visas. This is simply a fact of working life in Japan, as few teachers quitting their positions in Japan give more than one months notice. You do the math. It doesn`t give schools enough time to secure the working visas for Americans. So they either have to hire a citizen of the Commonwealth, or tell a US citizen to come on a tourist visa and switch it over.

If I were American, I would complain. Ask your government to negotiate a working-holiday
agreement with Japan. It would benefit both countries. More ideas can be exchanged and both
Japan and America can learn a lot from each other.

I would come on a tourist visa, and tell the Japanese authorities, how I am so looking forward to sightseeing in Kyoto!

by Kevin Burns

For More Information on the Working Holiday Visa Program for Japan see:

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