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Visa Basics: Instructor Versus Specialist in Humanities and International Services

GaijinPot investigates two common types of visas for teachers in Japan that cause the most confusion.

By 7 min read 2

The differences between the Instructor and the Specialist in Humanities/International Services visas aren’t readily apparent. After all, it is possible for two friends with almost identical jobs to be on two different visas. So why is this?

1. Instructor visa

Instead of looking at the similarities between the two, it’s far easier instead to consider the differences between them. The most obvious difference is the limitations that each one has. Instructor visas are, for the most part, limited to work at institutions established and operated under the School Education Act such as high schools, junior high schools, elementary schools and kindergartens operated by national or local governments and private educational institutions — especially those that are run with official licenses.

So far so simple, right? However, the full list of venues acceptable for instructor visas (according to the Japanese immigration guidelines) also includes places that offer “other education” at vaguely termed “miscellaneous educational institutions” that can include “international schools” that do not have any official approval or license from the government or local governments.

This gets a little tricky, so we asked Yumiko Kasama, a specialized immigration lawyer with the Gyoseishoshi Kasama Yumiko Office, to see if she could help us make some sense of these various school types.

“These include schools called kakushu and senshu gakkou (specialized vocational training colleges) that are also officially established under the School Education Act by meeting its requirements and applying for approval from national or local governments,” she said. “Also note that there are three types of senshu gakkou that may determine your eligibility: senmon (post secondary), koto senshu (upper secondary) and ippan katei (general course). Most people applying in this class fall under the senmon gakkou designation.”

Therefore, according to the official definition, Instructor visas are required for work places as diverse as compulsory education schools (elementary and junior high schools), secondary educational schools (high schools), schools for children with special needs, employment-related schools and vocational schools, all of which are established with the approval of national and local governments. In addition, these visas are required to teach at “other educational institutions equivalent to vocational schools in facilities and curriculum”. This can include those international schools without any “official” approval that at least meet the eligibility requirements.

To sum up:

  • Instructor visa holders can work at formal schools established under the School Education Act and also some international schools.
  • Instructor visa holders cannot work at non-formal schools, universities and colleges — teaching at these types of institutions (four-year university, college, graduate schools or technical colleges) would require a Professor visa status).

2. Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa

On the other hand, the Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa is a lot broader — as the name implies. This visa was officially rolled out in 2015 specifically to cater to the necessity in Japan for these three categories of work. The criteria for the Engineer and the Specialist in Humanities divisions are quite similar — the activities permitted require specialized skills or knowledge, just the work fields are different.

Activities permitted under Specialist in Humanities include, for example, lower-level management, marketing, sales, accounting and other general roles — these jobs are not just limited to teaching a subject. In order to be eligible, applicants must have graduated from a university, college or Japanese vocational school and the job they work at should be related to what they learned at their institution of study (or, if not based on education, applicants must have more than 10-years working experience in the field).

International Services is considered part of the Specialist in Humanities visa but this distinction is more related to jobs focused on “international” matters or “based on experience with foreign culture.” Activities permitted include import/export procedures specialist, translator, interpreter or foreign language teacher, for example. In order to apply for an International Services visa, applicants must have more than three years experience working in the field — except in the case of translator, interpreter and foreign language teachers if they have a university or college degree.

So, it’s for this reason that the teaching of foreign languages basically falls under “International Services” and not the “Specialist in Humanities” part of the visa.

When it comes to the types of visas available in Japan for teaching, it’s always worthwhile to learn exactly which type you have since getting the wrong visa can lead to trouble down the line.

Luckily, there is a far clearer explanation later on that states that these services should be “based on a contract with a public or private organization in Japan.” One of the key points about this is the “private organization” notation since private language schools usually fall under this visa type. That means places such as the big eikaiwa (English conversation schools) like ECC, Berlitz and Gaba etc.

If you are working with a private language school, immigration lawyer Kasama also says that: “These schools are not established formally with approval by national or local governments under the School Education Act. Please be careful that teaching at private schools with approval does not fall in this class.”

As well as language teaching, it also covers areas such as translation, interpreting and language teaching outside of schools teaching basic Japanese education curricula.

Strangely, it can also be a useful umbrella to put other careers that don’t clearly fall under any type of visa. Business people involved in international trade and specific types of designers, such as those who design foreign-related items like African clothes, Chinese art or Mexican furniture, for example, can all be given this visa.

The diverse uses of this particular visa are explained by the fact that it is really two or three visas in one. So people can either apply for the “humanities” or the “international services” part. The one clear requirement is that you able to offer services a local person would have a clear disadvantage in doing. Obviously, most language teachers will apply for the International Services visa, though those that teach at a university or college would actually apply for a Professor visa.

To sum up:

  • Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa holders can work at foreign language schools not operated under the School Education Act.
  • Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa holders cannot work at licensed schools such as elementary and high schools and others run with official government licenses.

When it comes to the types of visas available in Japan for teaching, it’s always worthwhile to learn exactly which type you have since getting the wrong visa can lead to trouble down the line. However, if it doesn’t go well on your very first applicatio permission by deciding where you would like to look for additional work, filling in the application and submitting it to immigration. Yumiko  Kasama cautions, however, that “these applications will not always be permitted. Immigration officials will review them carefully on a case-by-case basis looking specifically at the reasons why you need to do additional work.”

3. Extending the scope of your visa

If you already have your visa, but would like to branch out with other work (such as part-time teaching) still within your general field of expertise, you can apply for “Permission to Engage in Activity other than that Permitted under the Status of Residence Previously Granted.” This would allow you to do instructor work under the Specialist in Humanities/International Services tag and vice versa, offering you the ability to work at schools defined under both types of these visas.

We’re indebted to Yumiko Kasama for her help with this article. She is a specialist immigration lawyer providing services for English speakers living in Japan and is located in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture (though they can help in other districts if you ask). If you need more urgent or in-depth help for matters like this or any other type of visa, you can contact her at the Gyoseishoshi Kasama Yumiko Office (tel: 044 920-9521) or via email.

If you hold an Instructor or Specialist in Humanities-type visa and have any questions regarding its status — or how to change it or apply for a permit to work elsewhere — let us know in the comments!

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  • Jake Samson says:

    If a person has an Instructor’s visa, is it allowed to be a private English tutor to your friend’s children?

  • Norbert Lando says:

    Im an engineers visa holder for more than 10 years, i would like to change my place of work to skilled work, like welding or heavy equipment operator, could it be possible? Thank you



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