Reader: I am a software developer in Canada and after travelling to Japan several times last year, I've decided I want to live there. However, I realize that I need to bring my language skills up to a high-enough level in order to work there. The problem is that I'm 26 and I've read on several school websites that due to recent abuses, the Ministry of Justice is tightening up on the issuance of student visas to people over the age of 25. What are your comments on this?
Terrie: I'll start my answer by saying that if you're ever in doubt (i.e., you feel that you might be a marginal case) about a visa issue, you should employ a professional immigration consultant. In choosing, look for someone who has worked in the Immigration Bureau and can make discrete enquiries about your case - before going in with official documentation.
Regarding student visas, with the help of the DaiJob staff (thanks Junko), we did a little research, and were told by Immigration that the issuance of student visas is NOT age-dependent. The issue is your credibility and whether it makes sense that you would want to study Japanese. As you would have read in the media recently, there have been many cases of people from some developing countries coming to Japan on student visas but with the real intent to work. They then start skipping classes, and spend 1-2 years working in a kitchen or factory before the visa expires.
What makes you a credible case? Although there are no guidelines, I'd say that most people entering Japan the first time (versus a repeater) from a first-world economy should not have a problem getting a student visa. Clearly it helps if you have already done some classes in your own country, are a member of your local Japan Society, or have some other demonstrated relationship - but it is not compulsory or even really required.
If you are from a developing country, then things get more difficult. The Immigration people seem to look more closely at your finances, employment, family situation, etc. Also, I have heard through the grapevine that indeed, the Immigration Bureau is cracking down on students and student applications from emerging economies. This means less visas are being issued and waiting times to get a visa are getting longer.
Student visas are usually applied for on the behalf of a student by a school, so pick your school first, and check to make sure they do infact support international students and the visa process - most do. With a student visa, there is no concept of having to have a Guarantor or Sponsor, instead, the school supplies this function and the onus is on them to screen student applicants.
A good web site to get more information is http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/index.html. Also, as a side note, I've mentioned before that people on a student visa are allowed to do part-time work, to supplement their finances. This is limited to 28 hours per week, and apparently you are not supposed to work at insalubrious establishments such as bars and massage parlors.