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Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004

Vocational-tech schools face visa-violator action

Staff writer

As part of efforts to crack down on visa violators, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will issue directives to ensure vocational schools in the capital that accept foreign students do not allow their charges to run astray.

The metropolitan government is currently drafting directives for the schools for accepting and supervising foreign students, on the assumption that insufficient supervision is a factor behind foreign students overstaying their visas and engaging in labor illegally.

According to a metropolitan government survey of 14 vocational schools with foreign students in Toshima, Shinjuku and Shibuya wards released last week, eight of the institutions had dropped more than 10 percent of their foreign students from their rosters in fiscal 2003, citing such reasons as they disappeared.

The survey found that three schools did not contact foreign students even after a month had passed since they began skipping classes for lengthy periods. Five schools had not confirmed whether their foreign students had the financial means to study in Tokyo when screening their applications.

During an orientation Monday for vocational and Japanese-language schools organized by the metropolitan government, Vice Gov. Yutaka Takehana said most of the students who disappeared probably did so because they could not keep up with classes or make ends meet.

"I believe there are problems in the schools' screening and management of the lives and attendance of foreign students," Takehana said, stressing the need for the schools to beef up supervision to prevent students from overstaying their visas.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, 4,706 foreigners were arrested in Tokyo and sent to prosecutors on suspicion of illegally staying in Japan during the first 10 months of the year, up 873 from the same period last year. Of that figure, 437 had student visas, 46 more than the same period last year. The planned directives will cover vocational schools and "miscellaneous schools," which include Japanese-language schools. They will take effect in April. As of last May, 217 out of 452 vocational schools in the capital had students from overseas, according to metropolitan officials.

Under the guidelines, the schools will be required to supervise attendance and have full-time staff to advising students on daily life matters.

The schools will also be urged to confirm whether foreign students are financially capable of studying in Tokyo and have passed certain grades under the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

Prospective students for vocational schools, for example, would have to have cleared at least the second grade. This would mean they have acquired advanced grammar and kanji skills and are able to speak, read and write about general things in Japanese.

Tokyo will have the right to publicize the names of schools that violate the directives, officials said.

Tamotsu Matsuzawa, director of Japan Electronics College in Shinjuku Ward, a vocational school where some 300 -- or 10 percent of its students -- are foreigners, called the planned criteria too strict.

The guidelines ignore the criteria defined by immigration law, which states that students who have studied Japanese for at least six months in Japan or those who attended government-recognized schools such as high schools or colleges in the country for a year or more are regarded as having sufficient Japanese proficiency to enter vocational schools, he noted.

At the same time, however, Matsuzawa said he supports directives that would enhance supervision at vocational schools, noting there are some schools known as "visa sen," Japanese shorthand for "vocational schools for visas," which readily accept students from abroad.

Masamitsu Araki, board chairman of Zenkoku Nihongogakko Rengokai (the All-Japan Association of Japanese Language Schools), some of whose members are categorized as vocational or miscellaneous schools in Tokyo, said he believes association members are already taking steps in line with the metropolitan directives, including offering counseling.

Unlike Japanese-language schools, however, officials at vocational schools, where the majority of students are Japanese, may regard students as adults and not feel they should care for those who stop attending classes, Araki said. But he added that vocational schools should pay special attention to students from overseas and offer advice so they can complete their studies.

"Students from overseas have a hard time here, studying while working part time" to continue their schooling, Araki said. "They definitely need moral support" so they won't drop out.

But some experts argue that if the metropolitan government really wants to crack down on crimes committed by foreign students, it needs to also provide financial support, including scholarships. Metropolitan officials said that while the central government has such programs, the metropolitan government currently does not provide scholarships for foreign students.

Fumio Takano, founder of the nonprofit organization Tokyo Alien Eyes, which works on behalf of students from overseas, said such steps are needed because most foreign students come from areas whose currency value is much lower than the yen.

"There are only a few" who come to Japan in the guise of students with the aim of being involved in illegal work and other crimes, Takano said. "But some students cannot help but drop out and engage in work (illegally) due to financial difficulties."

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