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Concerns over student visa renewals after Japanese language school in Fukuoka decertified

Foreign students are seen entering a building housing the Nishinihon International Education Institute, in the city of Fukuoka's Minami Ward on Sept. 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Shizuka Takebayashi)

FUKUOKA -- Some of the roughly 630 international students enrolled at a Japanese language school here are facing the possibility of being unable to renew their visas after the school was stripped of its certification due to alleged human rights violations, including restraining an exchange student with a chain, it has been learned.

    Study visas are in principle renewed on condition that the school attended by the applicant is specified in the government's public notice. Although the Immigration Services Agency of Japan has reassured that it "will take a flexible response" over the matter, students at Nishinihon International Education Institute in the city of Fukuoka's Minami Ward are voicing concerns over the issue.

    Regarding the issuance of study visas, the ministerial order for the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act requires that, if the applicant is to exclusively study the Japanese language, the school be a Japanese language institution specified in public notice. The period of stay granted is up to one year and three months, and according to the school, it is up to two years for students enrolled in its "College and University Course." Some students are expected to face the expiration of their visas, but it is feared that their visa renewal procedures may hit a snag due to the school's decertification.

    The immigration agency is urging the school to transfer foreign students to other institutions specified in the public notice, but the agency's instruction is non-binding. It is the first case in the country that a Japanese language school in operation has been stripped of its specification in public notice. While the agency stated, "We will adopt a flexible response to avoid burdening students who are not at fault," it has not revealed the details of such steps. Though most of the students have reportedly already paid their tuition fees for certain periods of time, there are possibilities that some students will not be able to switch schools as they wish.

    A building housing the Nishinihon International Education Institute is seen in the city of Fukuoka's Minami Ward on Sept. 13, 2022. (Mainichi/Shizuka Takebayashi)

    The immigration agency delisted the school from public notice on Sept. 7. In a claim lodged via an attorney, the school insisted that the physical restraint of a student was "an individual action by a former employee" who quit the school after the case, ruling out any organizational nature of the incident. The school went on to file a suit with the Fukuoka District Court on Sept. 9, demanding that the agency's decision be nullified. The school also filed for a provisional disposition demanding that the decertification of the school be suspended. The school remains in operation as it can still give Japanese language lessons.

    A Nepalese male student attending the school complained, "I've paid a year's worth of tuition, but I'm thinking of changing schools. The school has explained the matter to us, but I'm not convinced about the human rights violation case. I'm not even sure if I can transfer to another school at this rate."

    Yoshihisa Saito, an associate professor in foreign labor law at Kobe University's graduate school, pointed out, "It is unacceptable that students and prospective students, who are not at fault, have to suffer a disadvantage due to reasons on the part of the school or the government." He continued, "The government ministries and agencies other than the immigration agency should join hands with the prefectural government to secure places for foreign students to continue studying in Japan."

    (Japanese original by Ken Nakazato and Shizuka Takebayashi, Kyushu News Department)

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