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Firms punished for allegedly faking Vietnamese visa applicants' Japanese proficiency

TOKYO -- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has slapped 12 companies with a six-month ban from October on applying for visas for Vietnamese students, over suspicions they forged their customers' Japanese proficiency certificates, according to people familiar with the ministry's action.

The ministry made the move after officials found more than 10 percent of some 6,000 interviewed Vietnamese nationals who applied for student visas from March 2017 through September 2018 failed to meet the required standards for Japanese-language proficiency.

The finding may affect deliberations in the Diet about the government's plan to accept more foreign workers, as the new program will involve checking those newcomers' Japanese abilities.

As many as 26,000 Vietnamese students were attending Japanese-language schools in Japan as of fiscal 2017, second only to Chinese students, according to the Japan Student Services Organization. Meanwhile, Vietnamese nationals formed the largest group of foreign criminal suspects arrested in Japan in 2017, comprising about 30 percent of the total, according to National Police Agency data. Of these, some 40 percent were residing in Japan as "students."

This high ratio of student visa holders among criminal suspects prompted the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam to suspect that sloppy student visa processing was behind the trend, and it conducted face-to-face interviews with applicants.

The embassy found that at least one in 10 applicants was not able to understand Japanese well enough to apply for a student visa. The ratio climbed above 30 percent among applicants whose visa paperwork was handled by the 12 companies that received the ministry's punishment.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry reported its finding to the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training, which had issued permits for those companies to process visa paperwork for applicants.

Such companies have thrived in Vietnam in recent years, as they solicit young customers by touting the possibility of "making money in Japan," charging more than 1 million yen for a visa application.

A student visa applicant has to submit a certificate of eligibility for resident status issued by the Japanese Ministry of Justice. To obtain the certificate, the applicant needs to prove they have an equivalent of N5 or a higher level of competence measured by the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, which denotes the ability to understand some basic Japanese.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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