Blog 25. The impact of COVID-19 on international students’ study-to-work transitions in Japan

By Toshiyuki Yamazaki

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nations and people very differently across the globe. This blog post focuses on international students who are studying and seeking jobs in Japan, and considers the ways in which COVID-19 has affected their transitions from university to employment post-graduation.  Here transition is conceptualised as an ongoing process of adaptation to different situations and changes in interpersonal relationships. International students experience multiple transitions, such as those related to migrating for their future career, and starting and completing their postgraduate studies. These transitions interact with those of others that they are connected to, including family, friends and university staff (cf. Multiple and Multi-dimensional Transitions (MMT) Theory).


In Japan, in response to the shrinking youth population and demographic decline, various initiatives have been undertaken to retain international graduates, who studied in Japan, as a workforce to fill the labour shortage. The Japanese government’s ‘Revitatlization Strategy 2016’ set out a goal to raise the domestic employment rate of international students from 30% to 50% (p. 160), whereas Japanese companies are now recruiting international graduates from overseas universities in other Asian countries as well. Though some international students start job-hunting before graduating, international students can stay on in Japan in order to find a job for up to one year upon their graduation.


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many challenges for international students. In a recent survey,  two major concerns were reported by international students related to their transitions. The first is financial difficulty. To help fund tuition fees and living expenses, many international students who worked part-time at restaurants and convenience stores were laid off soon after the outbreak of COVID-19. In response the government and many universities provided both domestic and international students with emergency support packages, including financial support and free wi-fi access. The other concern widely shared among international students is a sense of disconnectedness. Some of the students reported that they do not know whom to contact and consult about fears for their uncertain futures. These concerns include whether they should remain in or leave Japan post-graduation and whether they can find a job in Japan or elsewhere.


To tackle the aforementioned challenges, I want to make practical suggestions for the Japanese government and universitiea, some of which are not new. I suggest the government amplify and continue financial supports for international students, as they are not merely future workforce but also integral members of society. Equally important is clear communication of policy updates to the students.  Further, a sense of disconnectedness among international students should be urgently addressed as online classes will be continued at least over the next fall semester. Universities may want to create peer-support systems to keep students in contact with fellow students so that they can feel included and facilitate meaningful transitions.


As MMT Theory suggests, it is important to keep in mind, that these efforts will also support university staff  and home students‘ transitions as well.  Therefore, it is critical that future research assesses more comprehensively the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international students who are at different stages of their study-to-work transitions (i.e. searching for a job, settling in the host society) in Japan and elsewhere.


Toshiyuki Yamazaki is Postgraduate student at Tokyo Institute of Technology, Japan.


Image copyright: Divya Jindal-Snape 

Artist: Unknown, QMUL

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