Facing acute labor shortages in certain industries, Japan introduced the Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) visa program in 2019. This new visa aims to attract foreign workers to fill gaps and meet high demand for labor in specified sectors.
Japan has one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world. Over 28% of the population is 65 or older, and the birth rate remains low. This demographic trend has led to a shrinking workforce even as the economy grows.
Key industries like agriculture, construction, healthcare, hospitality and manufacturing now struggle with serious shortages of workers. There simply aren’t enough younger Japanese workers available to meet labor needs.
To help companies continue to operate and expand, the Japanese government created the SSW visa program. This provides an official channel for foreign workers to legally reside in Japan for several years and work in designated fields facing shortages.
The SSW visa has already brought in tens of thousands of workers to fill open jobs across Japan. But navigating the application process and requirements can be confusing. Read on for a complete guide to the Specified Skilled Worker program.
Overview of the SSW Visa
The Specified Skilled Worker (SSW) visa was introduced in Japan in 2019 to help companies hire foreign workers to fill chronic labor shortages.
It provides a legal pathway for workers from overseas to live and work in Japan long-term in designated industries struggling to recruit enough local employees.
There are two main categories:
- SSW-1 – For jobs requiring skills and knowledge in specific technical fields. Covers 12 major industries facing shortages. Allows stays of up to 5 years, with extensions possible up to maximum of 5 years total.
- SSW-2 – For jobs requiring even higher skill levels and experience. Currently only available in 2 industries – construction and shipbuilding. Allows unlimited period of stay.
The 12 industries covered by the SSW-1 visa include:
- Caregiving/nursing care
- Food services/hospitality
- Building cleaning
- Industrial machinery
- Accommodation (hotels)
- Automotive maintenance
This provides legal avenues for foreign workers to fillempty roles in these labor-strapped sectors that are vital for the Japanese economy.
To qualify for an SSW-1 or SSW-2 visa, applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Have a confirmed job offer in one of the specified industries facing labor shortages
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Demonstrate relevant skills and experience through passing the required exams or completing Technical Intern Training
- Meet language requirements by passing the designated Japanese language test
- Be of sound health with no criminal record or history of immigration violations
- Obtain a Certificate of Eligibility from the Japanese Immigration Services Agency
- Have at least 3 years of relevant work experience in the field
- Must not have dependents that need care or family members accompanying
- Agree to cooperate with residing municipality and accepting institutions
- Have a valid passport that remains valid through the length of stay
Meeting all eligibility criteria is crucial for securing approval for the SSW visa. Immigration authorities will evaluate applicants carefully to determine if they can positively contribute their technical skills and meet labor market needs.
Visa Application Process
To obtain an SSW visa, applicants must go through the following steps:
- Passport valid for entire length of stay in Japan
- Certificate of Eligibility obtained from the Japanese immigration authorities
- Job offer contract or letter from Japanese employer
- Documents proving technical skills and work experience
- Proof of qualifying language exam score
- Police clearance certificate showing no criminal record
- Health certificate or medical exam results
- Academic transcripts and qualifications
- Recent passport-size photo
Applying from Overseas
- Submit visa application at your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate general.
- Provide all required documents outlined above. Translations may be needed.
- Attend interview and verify details of your application if requested.
- Passport will be ready for pick up in 1-3 weeks if SSW visa is approved.
- Must enter Japan within 3 months of issue date on visa.
It is not possible to change or convert a tourist visa to SSW once in Japan. The full SSW visa application process must be completed from your home country before traveling to Japan.
Ensuring you have all necessary paperwork in order will streamline the application process and approval for this valuable visa.
Skills and Language Exams
To prove eligibility for the SSW program, foreign workers must pass:
- Technical skills exam for their specific occupation
- Japanese language exam focused on daily and workplace proficiency
The exams aim to ensure workers have sufficient expertise to fill labor shortages.
- Tests specialized knowledge needed to work in one of the specified industries and occupations
- Offered twice per year in countries worldwide through Japanese consulates
- Pass rate is approximately 30-40%
- Study guides and textbooks provided for self-study preparation
Japanese Language Exam
- Focuses on practical conversational Japanese needed for daily life and on-the-job
- Also offered twice annually after registering via Japanese consulates
- Has a pass rate around 40-50%
- Preparatory courses and practice tests available for self-study
Those who have successfully completed Technical Intern Training programs in Japan focused on the same field can be exempt from the skills exam requirement.
Dedicated preparation through provided study materials or prep courses greatly improves exam success chances.
Rights and Responsibilities
As an SSW visa holder in Japan, you have certain rights along with responsibilities:
- Can reside in Japan under a valid status of residence
- Access national health insurance and pension systems
- Use public services and facilities
- Open a bank account and lease property
- Renew SSW-1 visa up to maximum 5 years
- Can only work for sponsoring employer in the specified occupation
- Must follow all Japanese laws and regulations
- Pay taxes appropriately and enroll in insurance programs
- Inform Immigration Bureau of any changes or updates to status
- Cooperate with authorities and accepting institutions
- Only SSW-2 visa holders with higher skills can sponsor dependents
- Spouses and children under age 20 may accompany the SSW-2 worker
- SSW-1 does not allow any family members to be brought to Japan
- Long-term SSW residents meeting criteria like 10+ years in Japan and Japanese language proficiency may apply for permanent residence
- Provides ability to live and work in Japan indefinitely without visa renewals
- But pathway to permanent residency for SSW holders remains unclear compared to other visa statuses
The Specified Skilled Worker visa presents a valuable opportunity for foreign nationals to live and work in Japan long-term in high-demand roles.
With two categories, the visa allows stays of up to 5 years (SSW-1) or indefinitely (SSW-2) for jobs in sectors facing chronic shortages like caregiving, construction and manufacturing. Workers must meet criteria like language ability, technical skills and 3+ years of experience to qualify.
Applying from overseas, workers obtain a CoE from immigration authorities, then secure the SSW visa from Japanese consulates in their home country before traveling to Japan. Once there, they can contribute their skills while enjoying rights like health insurance and public services.
As Japan continues to encourage foreign workers to address its demographic challenges, more industries may be added to the SSW visa program. For those interested in living and working abroad, gaining valuable experience, and earning higher wages – consider whether your skills and background match Japan’s needs. The SSW program could help open doors to an exciting opportunity.