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Japanese city offers startup visa as nation debates immigration
Kobe, Japan aims to be a tech oriented city

Japanese city offers startup visa as nation debates immigration

A thriving city in central Japan, Kobe, has taken a daring move to offer what is called a startup visa program, a one-year visa package, for enterprising young business leaders wanting to setup shop in Japan, as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tries to manage the fallout from another (national) program which offered a five-year Japanese visa for semi-skilled workers around world to curb the crippling labor shortage in the country.

Passed in the Japanese parliament at end of 2018, the new immigration bill has concocted a five-year stay visa program with a possibility of extension for one cycle to fill the gap in the unskilled and semi-skilled labor force Japan is experiencing in the past few years. Nevertheless, the new bill has sparked so much controversy in Japan that the fallout appears to be still visible in the unusually heightened political activism led by the rather less prominent opposition camp.

Apparently, most of the protesting towards this bill is not coming from groups opposing the entrance of new workers in labor force but from people who accuse the government of mishandling the already existing Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) which is largely offered to workers from Asian who want to work and train in Japan from 3 to 5 years. This program is highly abused by employers and organization, according to critics and the opposition, with many cases of rights violation creeping up in the Japanese media in recent times.

According to a prominent lawyer activist, most of employers are using TITP as source of free labor. He said not only are the worker poorly paid they also don’t have the right to change employers if they wish to do so as conditions of their visa; and in many cases they receive little to no training.

Hence, the stakeholders argue that Japan should clean up the existing TITP program before passing legislation to invite in another round of workers. This five-year visa provision is expected to attract 345,000 new semi-skilled workers into Japan filling gaps in the hospitality and elderly care industries, where labor shortages are said to be apparent.

Meanwhile, the city of Kobe with its new drive to make the city a hub of tech oriented, innovative industries, it has issued the its new startup visa program staying in effect for non-renewable one year period. The aim is to attract innovative businesses into Kobe; and in doing so, the city recognizes the steep requirements of acquiring an ordinary Business Management Visa for startups, says Hassen Kedir Edris, a Japan-educated Ethiopian working as Kobe city’s African liaison officer.

The Business Management Visa requires foreign companies to create two permanent employment opportunities for Japanese citizens/permanent residents or register a capital of 5 million Japanese Yen or USD 46296.29 (at current yen to dollar exchange rate). “This would be quite steep for new companies,” says Hassen adding; so what we want is for them to have a breathing room of one year so that in that time they can find prudent investors and be in sound financial standing to fulfil the Business Management Visa requirements by themselves.

“The procedure is simple, the startup will submit their business plan to Kobe City and after getting approval from the city hall, they will be offered the visa,” he explains. And he says that African startups could stand to gain from this opportunity.

However, enterprises qualifying for this program do need to be “Businesses using advanced technology (IT, health, medical / welfare, environment, logistics etc.) or businesses that add value and innovation to existing industries”.

On the national level, the debate still continues on the new immigration bill. While no one is disputing the fact that demographic shift in Japan is eating away at the nation’s labor force, opposition argues that Japanese values and image might suffer if the government lets in another round of workers without remedying the TITP and that if they were to be exposed to similar situation.