Photo/IllutrationA foreign student works at a restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

To help alleviate labor shortages, foreign graduates of universities in Japan with a high level of Japanese proficiency will be allowed to work at restaurants and retailers.

The new measure to expand the Designated Activities visa will take effect on May 30.

The Justice Ministry announced May 28 that the expansion targets foreign students who graduated from four-year university programs or graduate schools in Japan and, in principle, have passed N-1, the highest level in the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

Until now, those graduates were only allowed to change their student visa to work visas that require them to utilize their skills learned at universities, which prohibited them from working in a non-related area.

With the rules for changing visa status being strict, it was difficult for those students to find a pathway to employment in the service industry, such as at restaurants, convenience stores or other retail shops, which are in desperate need of workers.

Currently, these establishments have a heavy reliance on foreign employees partly to cater to overseas tourists.

After the change, foreign graduates can be granted the Designated Activities visa for five years in maximum, under fulfillment of certain conditions, which will allow them to work in a wider range of jobs that are out of their fields of study.

The Japanese government has estimated that several thousand foreign graduates will work under the expanded Designated Activities visa annually.

The Designated Activities visa differs from the new “specified skills” working visa, which was introduced in April. Under the specified skills visa, visas are offered in 14 sectors that face serious manpower shortages such as hotels, restaurants, construction and nursing care after taking exams.