The reco Guide to Getting a Visa in Japan (As an Engineer)

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer and this article does not provide legal advise. I did however try my best to provide accurate information by referring to official sources as well as an immigration lawyer. Please consult with a lawyer for professional legal advice on immigration and visas in Japan. 


Eligibility to work is one of the requirements that you need to keep in mind when applying for a job in Japan. Let’s have a look at the two most common visa types for engineers, their differences and what you need to qualify. We’ll also discuss the application procedure as well as what you can do if you don’t meet the visa requirements.


Types of Visas
The Engineer Visa in Detail
The Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals Visa in Detail
So, which one should I get?
What if I don’t have a university degree or 10 years of experience?
On Using an immigration Lawyer
The Application Procedure
Required Documents
Potential Blockers
Final Thoughts

Types of Visas

While there are 29 different types of visas (or “status of residence”), two of them are most widely used by engineers who are looking to work in Japan. Those are:

1. Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa (Engineer Visa)

2. Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals Visa (HSP Visa)

Summary and main differences

Engineer Visa HSP Visa
Expiration 1, 3 or 5 years 5 years, change to unlimited after 3 years

1. Job offer from company that can sponsor your visa and work content related to engineering
2. Degree related to work or 10 years of experience or passed technical exam
3. Pay equal to Japanese
1. Same as engineer visa
2. 70 HSP points
Preferential treatment none Change to HSP (ii) visa after 3 years, more flexible spouse employment, permission to bring parents, permission to bring housekeeper**
Restriction on job change No, only need to send notice to immigration bureau Yes, during first 3 years need to apply for employment change (almost like new visa)
* For the full list and additional requirements see link

The Engineer Visa in Detail

The Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa is the most commonly used visa and covers all jobs that fall within the three categories indicated in the name. The categories are important when you apply for the\is visa for the first time since your background needs to match the type of work you will engage in (more on the requirements below). It comes with a 1, 3 or 5 years duration of stay and is easily extendable after expiration, as long as you’re still employed within the same industry. 


1. Visa sponsorship and matching content of work

First and foremost, you need to have a job offer from a Japanese company that is able to act as your visa sponsor. The sponsor is responsible for providing the necessary documents and information to the Japanese immigration authorities as well as ensuring that you comply with all the requirements of the visa, including reporting any changes in employment status or address to the immigration bureau. 

Your visa sponsor also needs to fulfill certain requirements, such as being financially stable. Usually, this shouldn’t be a problem if you are applying for a company that is willing to sponsor your visa. However, not all companies are able to sponsor a visa (especially smaller ones may not have the necessary resources), so make sure to clarify this point in case the company doesn’t advertise visa sponsorship.

Also, the content of work that you will be doing for this company needs to match the visa category that you are applying for. If that’s an Engineer visa, the majority of your work needs to be related to engineering.

2. Educational background or work experience

Either one of the following:

  • Having graduated from a university (including junior college) in a major related to engineering. However, there is some room for interpretation and the relevance of a degree is judged rather loosely. For more information see What if I have an unrelated degree?
  • Having graduated from a vocational school in Japan.
  • Having Passed a technical certification that is recognized by the Japanese government such as the ITEE (you can find a full list of recognized exams here).
  • Having more than 10 years of relevant work experience. This includes time spent studying a relevant subject at university, vocational school, or high school.

3. Equal Pay

Your job needs to pay equal or higher to what a Japanese person in a similar position would earn. This sounds like a big hurdle but in reality the minimum requirement seems low and shouldn’t be a point of concern to most applicants.

The Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals Visa in Detail

The HSP visa is basically an upgrade to the Engineer visa with an extra requirement and a list of preferential treatments. It does however come at the cost of employment restriction and the application  will also require additional documents.


1. Requirements 1-3 of Engineer visa (with a small addition: your salary cannot be lower as 3m JPY annually)

2. An accumulated 70 points within the same category of the Points Calculation Table for Highly-Skilled Professionals. For any kind of technical/engineering work, this category will be the “Advanced specialized /technical activities”.

Preferential Treatment

For this extra effort, you’ll get a list of benefits, called preferential immigration treatments. These include:

  • standard period of stay of 5 years
  • more flexibility in terms of side jobs/founding an own business
  • relaxed requirements for Spouse’s employment
  • permission to bring parents under a certain set of conditions
  • permission to bring a housekeeper under a certain set of conditions
  • priority handling of procedures for entry and residence
  • upgrade to the HSP (ii) visa after 3 years with unlimited period of stay and relaxed restrictions of employment

HSP visa and permanent residency (PR)
An often cited preferential treatment is the Relaxation of residency history requirements for permission for permanent residence. However, you actually do not need to hold an HSP visa to qualify for an early PR application (after 1 year with 80 points or 3 years with 70 points). You only have to reach 70 or 80 points for 3 or 1 years respectively, independent of being on an HSP or an Engineer visa. For more info see Guideline for permission for permanent residence (revised on May 31, 2019).

Changing jobs on and HSP visa

The HSP visa comes with one significant disadvantage: it’s linked to your company. If you decide to change job, you will have to submit another round of documents to the immigration bureau and you will have to clear the 70 points bar again – almost like applying for a new visa. This only applies to the first 3 years while you are on the HSP (i) visa. Once you upgrade to the HSP (ii), the flexibility of job change is the same with an Engineer visa. Still, for at least 3 years, changing jobs  will cost quite a bit of extra effort and can be a problem in case your points calculation has changed (such as salary decrease or different age bracket). 

So, which one should I get?

The Engineer visa is perhaps the more practical choice for most people since it’s less hassle to apply and more importantly, has no restriction on changing jobs. However, if you need any of the preferential treatments, for example if you want to bring your parents to Japan, then the HSP visa is the right choice. For anyone reaching 70 points on the calculation table it’s basically a trade of between freedom of changing jobs vs. preferential treatment. 

What if I don’t have a university degree or 10 years of experience?

>> Passing technical examination

Passing a technical exam such as the ITEE in Japan or the ITPEC in other Asian countries will qualify you to work as an engineer even without a university degree. For a full list of recognized exams see the ISA website. These exams cover computer science fundamentals and usually require extensive preparation. For more details on the ITEE as well as sample questions, see: Information-technology Promotion Agency, Japan\. 

>> Switching Industries?

I’ve read in other articles that you could get the Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa by working as an English teacher first (or really any job that falls within the 2 non-Engineer categories) and then switch to an engineer/tech job later under the same visa. Technically, you only need 3 years of working experience as a teacher and no university degree to apply for the International Services category and work as a teacher in Japan. Once you have the visa, you only have to inform the immigration office of your job change when you get an engineering job.

Our immigration lawyer raised concerns about this method since it will be difficult to extend your visa once it expires. However, depending on your timeline and your long term plans, this may still be an option.

On Using an immigration Lawyer

As mentioned above, there’s room for interpretation when it comes to judging the relevance of your educational background or your past work experience or the points calculation for highly-skilled professionals. In the end, the immigration officer reviewing your application will make the final decision  on whether your background qualifies for a given visa category or not. If you don’t clearly fulfill a specific requirement, e.g having a university degree in humanities, it’s up to you to convince the immigration bureau that your background matches the type of work that you are planning to do. In those cases you may attach a statement of reason or written explanation to your visa application.

An immigration lawyer or administrative scrivener (行政書士事  Gyōsei shoshi koto in Japanese) can be extremely helpful in drafting such a statement which also needs to be written in Japanese. They know what the relevant arguments are and can perhaps also evaluate the success chance of your application before handing it in. Besides that, an immigration lawyer may also consult you on other visa options in case the Engineer visa or the HSP visa is not suitable for you. 

Normally, your employer will use an immigration lawyer to take care of your application or has a visa specialist in-house. In case you do need to find and pay an immigration lawyer yourself, I would recommend someone who isn’t specifically advertised as “English speaking” since those normally charge twice the standard rate. 

The Application Procedure

After you’ve accepted a job offer by a company which can act as your visa sponsor, you first have to provide various documents, such as your passport, resume, educational and work certificates to your future employer. They will then submit an application to the Japanese Immigration Bureau on your behalf to obtain a certificate of eligibility (COE). A COE is an official document issued by the Japanese Ministry of Justice that verifies that you meet the requirements for the specific working visa that you intend to apply for. 

Try to provide the necessary documents in a timely manner and get the application kicked off as soon as possible since the processing time for your COE can take anywhere from 1-3 months and is actually the biggest part of your visa application.

Once your COE has been approved, your employer will send it to you. You can then submit an application for an entry visa to the Japanese embassy or consulate in your home country. The application will require various documents, such as your passport, the COE, a visa application form, and a recent photo. The processing time can take several days to a few weeks. 

The entry visa will allow you to travel to Japan. At the immigration counter at the airport, you will then receive your Residence Card stating your actual working visa status and the period of stay etc. in exchange for your COE.

Be aware that your COE is only valid for 3 months and needs to still be valid when you enter Japan.

Required Documents

Your visa sponsor will provide you with a list of documents at the start of the visa application process. Those will vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for, as well as your specific circumstances and which documents your employer can provide from their side. The Immigration Office may also ask you to provide additional documents during the application.

Some of the typical documents that may be required include:

  • Scan/Copy of Passport. Note that your passport needs at least six months’ validity beyond your intended stay in Japan.
  • Photograph (4 cm long x 3 cm wide)
  • Certificate of eligibility application form. You can find the forms on the ISA website but it should be provided by your employer.
  • Graduation certificates (if applicable). These must be officially certified documents or an original diploma. 
  • Proof of work history (if applicable). If you apply for a visa on the grounds of 10 years of professional work experience, you will have to provide certificates of resignation from your previous employers, stating your term of employment and job description or similar documents that serve as proof that you’ve worked in related jobs for more than 10 years. 
  • Criminal record (if applicable). You’re obliged to disclose your criminal record when applying for a CEO, if you have any. For more details see Potential Blockers.

Additional Documents for the HSP Visa:

  • Point Statement
  • Explanatory documents for each category in the point calculation, that you need to reach 70 points. These could be documents proving academic degree(s), annual salary, research achievements, Japanese language proficiency etc.

Potential Blockers

Criminal record

A criminal record does not necessarily mean that you cannot travel to Japan. However, if a

crime falls under certain categories, you are generally denied entry into Japan. For more information see release by the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese ISA will make the final decision on whether or not you are allowed to enter. If you are not sure whether your criminal record will be an issue, the Japanese embassy recommends contacting the agency directly.

Final Thoughts

Japan’s immigration laws are complex and in many cases, there’s quite some room for interpretation. In the end the immigration officer in charge of your application will decide if your degree or working experience is relevant to the job that you are planning to do in Japan and if you qualify for a certain visa or not.

Often, companies and recruiters in Japan will evaluate your eligibility to work right at the start of your application and perhaps reject it if you don’t clearly qualify for a working visa. Being knowledgeable in Japan’s immigration policy or even consulting an immigration lawyer could then make a real difference.

If you have a university degree in natural sciences and a job offer from a company that can sponsor your visa in Japan, it should be easy getting an Engineer visa, which is the most practical choice for most candidates. The application takes about 3 months (but you can only start after you’ve signed a job offer) and your future company will guide you through the process. 

The Mipro Guide to Starting a Business in Japan
Working as IT Personnel in Japan
On the ISA website:
ISA HSP leaflet
How does the scoring work? 
Guideline for permission for permanent residence (revised on May 31, 2019)
Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services 
FAQ on the Points-Based Preferential Immigration Control and Residency Management Treatment for Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals
Application for issuance of a Certificate of Eligibility