A GUIDE TO VISA-BASED INTERNSHIPS IN JAPAN: PROCESSES AND PITFALLS
© Copyright 2018 Tokyo Global Engineering Corporation
The Tokyo Global Engineering Corporation provides the following information as a public service. Corporations in Japan and their prospective interns will benefit from reviewing this information.
Nothing in this guide is intended as legal advice, and immigration regulations of Japan seem to be changed or updated almost daily. Anyone genuinely needing help regarding matters discussed here, or planning to stay in Japan at length on an immigration visa, should consult an attorney specializing in Japan immigration law. For a free referral to such an attorney, please contact TGEC Public Affairs.
Beginning in 2018, Japan became the top nation-state placement location of choice for interns traveling on a visa. With Japan having many of the world’s most populated cities, including the most populated metropolitan area, by far, this makes sense. However, because of Japan visa and labor restrictions, the impetus behind this phenomenon is unclear.
An official, current, bilingual copy of Japan immigration law can be located at
LABOR BY INTERNS ON VISAS FORBIDDEN
Persons entering Japan on visas for purposes of completing an internship cannot perform any labor, at all, paid or otherwise. It is because of this restriction that vocational school students are prohibited from receiving such visas. Vocational school students are trained only in specialized labor by their schools; ergo, labor by any intern on a visa being prohibited in Japan, such visas are not awarded to vocational school students.
See the following text of Japan immigration law via the above link:
Official English-language translation:
(vi) The implementing organization and the sending organization have not entered into a contract, in connection with the technical intern training which the applicant intends to engage in while in Japan, that stipulates penalties pertaining to non-performance of a labor contract or a contract which otherwise expects the transfer of undue money or other property and such a contract is not expected to be entered into until the end of the technical intern training.
TGEC simple English interpretation:
What this means is that, under Japan law, not until the end of an internship can an intern be offered a paid position. Moreover, a prospective intern should be cautious (about promises before an internship) about a paid position at the end of an internship. To avoid any semblance of impropriety, corporations should never tell interns (before or during an internship) about entertaining a notion of hiring an intern for a paid position. All interns should incipiently be told that a funded position could not possibly materialize by the end of one’s internship.
UNIVERSITY STUDENTS ONLY
Japan visas for internship purposes are, however, awarded to university students. This is because–whether teaching engineering, business, or physics–universities primarily teach theory, with little practice. The Government of Japan recognizes the absence of such practice as being a genuine educational need and seeks to accommodate this learning need via visa programs. Visas are awarded to university students to allow them to complete internships and receive practice, but not to perform labor during internship periods.
FOR-PROFIT INCENTIVES UNCLEAR
This restriction on such practice–that it be solely educational in nature–means that there is little, if anything, that an intern that has been issued such a visa could legally do to benefit a for-profit corporation. Japan labor and immigration laws are very clear on this: interns on visas cannot give anything to a visa sponsor’s customers. Moreover, nothing such interns produce, not even a free photocopy of a neighborhood map, can be given to a visa sponsor’s customer.
For example, in the case of an intern learning how to serve tea at a business conference, the following section of Japan immigration law applies:
Official English-language translation:
(d) The applicant intends to engage in activities related to entertaining through performances at an establishment in which food and drink are not served for profit to the seated audience and where no one serves the customers (limited to an establishment managed by a public or private non-profit organization in Japan or one with a seating capacity of 100 or more).
TGEC simple English interpretation:
What this means is that if an organization’s customers attend a conference at which tea is served, and even if the tea is served at no cost to customers, an organization’s visa-based interns cannot serve the tea. At best, an intern could “entertain” customers, which otherwise should mean to engage in small talk with customers; however, ambiguity regarding use of the word “entertainment” has given rise to concerns about the following:
Two-facedness and duplicity abound. Several media have written about consequences, which sometimes begin with conversations about how interns will be expected to “network” with an organization’s clients and “get to know them better.” Interns in such situations are, however,expected to engage in sexual intercourse with clients.
Take also, for example, internships in advance of the upcoming Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. Under Japan contract law, promises (as opposed to contracts with legal consideration) are not enforceable. Nor is an illegal contract enforceable. Several internship offerors, however, have orally promised to pay interns; some offerors have been so bold as to provide written labor contracts for the same. The uninitiated, however, are left with empty hands; they are not paid at all. Nor can they legally be paid, at all. Though perfectly untrue, it would not be a stretch to say that many sponsoring organizations believe that they literally own interns on visas, while in Japan.
Moreover, even when accepting small payments, interns on visas become criminally complicit, whereupon the truth is revealed to them and they are threatened with violence or referral for prosecution. Vice News published an outstanding report on this phenomenon a few years ago: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wt__lHCuH5g
OTHER VISA RESTRICTIONS
Duration of internships for students completing an internship on a visa in Japan cannot exceed fifty percent of a degree program’s duration. For example, when degree programs are four years in duration, students enrolled in such programs outside Japan cannot complete more than two years of internships in Japan. Additionally, such internships cannot exceed one year per internship. In this sense, a student of Antarctica University double-majoring in library science and Japanese literature could complete two years of an internship at a library in Tokyo, but would need to leave Japan after one such year and complete the visa application process again, from outside Japan.
In the case of visa-based internships shorter than three months in duration, required participation in the Japan national health insurance program is waived. Nonetheless, such interns should absolutely enroll in travel insurance before entering Japan, with a word of caution: such policies are usually reimbursement-only, meaning that such an intern would need to fund any Japan-based medical expenses out-of-pocket, only to submit receipts to an insurer after leaving Japan, only to receive reimbursement after adjudication by the insurer. In this sense, care for a bad bicycle accident during one’s first month in Japan would perhaps not reimbursed by an insurance company until over one year later. Moreover, the notion of a medical bill in the mail weeks later is not a Japan phenomenon; payment is due in full when receiving care before leaving a medical facility in Japan. A substantial discount is applied to persons enrolled in the Japan national health insurance program, which is an incentive to seek internships longer than three months in duration.
Also in the case of a visa-based internship shorter than three months in duration, the requirement to submit a Certification of Eligibility is waived by the Government of Japan, and interns may instead apply for short-term visas. Prospective interns should carefully consider the costs and benefits of internship durations.
Documents presented by one’s university not written in the Japanese language yet required by the Government of Japan as evidence must be translated into Japanese by a certified, private translator. Embassies and consulates of Japan may be willing to provide lists of such translators that operate in one’s local area. A good way to limit translation expense is to request a letter from a university administrator, on university letterhead, that briefly offers only the information requested, in bulleted (versus sentence) format. Pages and pages of academic transcripts, enrollment records, curriculum vitæ, and letters of reference are otherwise guaranteed to result in eye-popping translation fees; therefore, every effort to condense should be taken. Nonetheless, as soon as a prospective intern has identified an internship of genuine interest, one should contact a local Japan embassy to receive a list of what academic records must be submitted in the Japanese language, and then proceed immediately to arrange for official copies of the records to be sent to a certified translator (preferably in the form of an all-purpose letter by one’s university president), because translation may require considerable time.
DOCUMENTS THAT MUST BE SUBMITTED BY INTERNSHIP PROVIDERS (NOT BY INTERNSHIP APPLICANTS) TO A JAPAN REGIONAL IMMIGRATION BUREAU
None of these documents will be returned by the immigration bureau.
1.) Application for Certificate of Eligibility
2.) Recent, 4cm × 3cm, passport-quality color photograph, not glued to application, with intern’s name handwritten in black ink on reverse, exactly as it appears in one’s passport
3.) Self-addressed envelope, with a 392-yen stamp affixed
4.) Letter of guarantee by person funding internship expenses, such as university tuition, airfare, lodging, insurance, et cetera (translation into Japanese not usually required)
5.) Certificate of enrollment by university awarding academic credit for internship
Sample, courtesy of NIMS University:
6.) For a legal minor, written participation permission of a parent or guardian, or a court-approved emancipation
7.) Written permission, by a prospective intern, for an internship provider to apply for a prospective intern’s visa with the Government of Japan directly. (Having the legal effect of a special power of attorney.)
8.) Memorandum of understanding between the university awarding academic credit and the organization providing the internship
9.) Letter by university administrator granting permission to participate in the internship and identifying duration of academic degree program of enrollment, such as four years total for an undergraduate degree
10.) Detailed internship activities schedule (equivalent of academic syllabus), statement of nonremunerative intent
11.) (Optional) Documents specifying duration of previous internships in Japan
12.) (Optional) A wise corporation would tab all of these in a multipocketed folder, prefaced by a table of contents (in the Japanese language) that has the contact information of someone that can answer questions immediately (in the Japanese language), and specifically requests immediate contact in the event of any alleged error’s discovery. Because all documents will be scanned, none should be stapled or printed on photocopy-resistant paper, such as multiple-page academic transcripts that read “VOID” when photocopied.
SCREENING ADVICE FOR INTERNSHIP PROVIDERS:
Internship providers would do well to conduct a review of motion pictures featuring interns as characters. With causes from Bollywood to Hollywood, the result of such fictional stories is internship applicants drunken on fantasies about being issued corporate credit cards without purchase limits, keys to posh penthouse apartments, executive tailors, corporate boardroom gavels, and first-class air travel. A good rule for screening interns is that they should have non-stop questions for an internship provider, with one exception: questions about money payable to the intern. No such questions are acceptable, at least not in Japan.
ADVICE FOR PROSPECTIVE INTERNS:
There are internship traps and scams everywhere, and some outwardly seem legitimate. Take for, example, the absolute prohibition by Japan immigration law on the acceptance of fees by one organization for a mere referral to another organization, for the purpose of visa-based technical intern recruitment. Japan immigration law reads and prohibits,
(q) An act within a for-profit referral organization of making arrangements in connection with technical intern training or an act within a supervising organization or a non-profit referral organization of acquiring an income and making arrangements in connection with the technical intern training.
The law further orders a minimum prison sentence of three years for violation.
However, one can easily use Google to identify examples of violators.
Read the law here:
Examples of various internship-providing organizations and their fee structures:
Prospective interns should be concerned about common pitfalls.
INTERNSHIP ABSOLUTE WARNING SIGNS
Persons seeking internship opportunities should cease all communication with organizations involved in any of the following:
INTERNSHIP APPLICATION FEES. Corporations lose time and labor when processing such applications, and this is understandable. But fifty-thousand yen for an application fee is absurd.Charging one million yen or more for an internship, when being paid nothing is already bad enough, is robbery. The cost of visaapplication, as publicly advertised by the Government of Japan, is nothing. Costs of postage and correspondence would be nitpicky. Time should be negligible. Put simply, corporations should not charge applicants for applying. Many do, however.
P.R.-FIRM-QUALITY TESTIMONIALS BY FORMER INTERNS ON VISAS. Corporations in Japan are not allowed to direct interns on visas to perform labor or anything profitable. Why, then, would a corporation invest heavily in recruiting even more interns via fancy publications? Interns on visas could, understandably, be an integral part of any non-profit organization, perhaps mentioned on one page of a volunteer-recruitment brochure. But for-profit corporations? Stellar photography and sing-song historiographies cannot be reconciled with alleged absence of profit motive.
MANDATORY APPLICATION PHOTOGRAPHY. A tricky requirement. Japan visa applications do require a passport-size photograph; however, passports are to be submitted only to embassies outside Japan, and to immigration inspectors, on arrival to Japan. Any requirement to submit any photography at time of internship application (versus certificate of eligibility application), such as a copy of a university identification card or passport, should be cause to suspect profiling, especially when coupled with the following:
PREDOMINANTLY MALE CORPORATE EXECUTIVES NOT ON VISAS, PREDOMINANTLY (OR EXCLUSIVELY) FEMALE INTERNS ON VISAS. Though cruelly frank, to say that females on visas in Japan are regarded by some as houseplant fertilizer would not be an overstatement. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Lindsay_Hawker Nor would it be an overstatement to say that many males in Japan have no concept of human rights. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BTxZXKsJdGU Any good corporation would allow a prospective visa-based intern to teleconference with an executive employee of any biological sex, in advance of application. This should not mean any corporation’s one female executive in charge of public affairs, either.
Moreover, no good corporation would pressure its interns (or employees) to attend “social” events outside of internship settings, including–and especially–at locations where alcohol or drugs are present. Put simply, applicants that do not heavily scrutinize gaining organizations can become enslaved, trafficked, or dead.
FAILURE OF INTERSHIP PROVIDER TO PRESENT / FAILURE OF EMBASSY TO RESPOND. A prospective intern can double-dodge potential trouble by asking an internship provider and one’s national embassy in Tokyo to meet and discuss an internship plan, before an intern arrives to Japan. This offers multiple benefits, the top two being that a shady internship provider would probably not present at an embassy, at all, and, second, that a poorly-staffed embassy would not facilitate such a meeting (highlighting the likelihood of not providing aid in a real crisis, later). Most internship providers in Japan are headquartered in Japan’s largest cities, as are hundreds of embassies and consulates of various nation-states. Hopping from one’s corporate headquarters to an embassy or consulate would be the small matter of taxi fare, plus meeting time. It should be easy. Were any gaining organization or embassy of jurisdiction to be unwilling to engage in such a meeting opportunity, then, no matter what promises are made (such as gobs of money or low-cost housing), any such internship should be refused.
Below is a courtesy, draft letter for prospective applicants, of any internship in Japan, to mail to an embassy of one’s national citizenship in Tokyo. Such a letter should be printed in hard copy and mailed (and postmarked) from one’s nation-state. Enclosing a photocopy of one’s passport would not be inappropriate, as the expiration date of one’s passport is often the first item on the mind of any embassy employee.
Prospective interns that are unfamiliar with diplomatic protocol and hold citizenship only in nation-states where royalty is not performed may regard the language of the below draft correspondence as inappropriate; however, it is not. It is written in the internationally accepted style of address for every diplomat, everywhere.
Embassy of [Nation-State] to Japan
[Ward], Tokyo [Postal code]
I am a citizen of [Nation-State], and I apologize to trouble you with the matter of an internship that I am considering completing in Japan.
Briefly, I am unable to meet in person in advance (in Tokyo) with members of the organization offering the internship and, frankly, there are a lot of horror stories on the Web about internship providers in Japan. Accordingly, I apologize to ask you, or a member of Your Excellency’s staff, please, to contact the [name of organization] and request a meeting, to discuss the organization’s internships, generally.
Please notify me of the outcome of the meeting; else, please notify me soon, in the event that the organization does not respond, at all. I am best reached via e-mail at [e-mail address].
I would be remiss were I not to note that I have no specific concerns about the organization; rather, I am able to measure only so much telephonically and via e-mail, the same as has been available to various former interns of other organizations in Japan, whose unfavorable experiences are now widely chronicled on websites and film. My assumption is that, were this prospective internship provider an organization about which I should be concerned, Your Excellency would probably not receive a response to a meeting request. In the event that the organization were to present to Your Excellency, it would be an outstanding opportunity for Your Excellency to communicate expectations of students from [Nation-State] that complete internships, generally.
Please let me know your ability to meet this request. Any other information you could offer me would be greatly appreciated, and I welcome an opportunity to meet Your Excellency when I arrive in Japan and register with the Embassy.
Enclosed is a photocopy of my passport, for your convenience.
[E-mail address, again]