Woman’s plight sheds light on Japanese language school cancellation fees

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A Vietnamese woman who lives in Miyagi prefecture sent a message to the “letters from the readers” section of Kahoku Shimpo expressing a grievance. The letter explained that when she informed the Japanese language school where she was studying that she had to cancel her registration due to financial difficulties resulting from the pandemic, she was about to pay a cancellation fee of 3 million. yen, after being pressured by the school to do so.

The school said it asked for such fees to discourage students from leaving school and switching to work visas, but experts say this approach takes advantage of students’ weak position and is a violation of their human rights.

In November 2020, the woman, who is in her 30s, obtained a student visa, came to Japan and entered the Japanese language school in the Aoba district of Sendai.

She planned to study Japanese for two years with the goal of becoming a nurse in Japan.

But soon her plans began to fall apart, as a restaurant she worked at part-time was forced to shorten opening hours due to the spread of COVID-19 and her income turned out to be much lower than usual. expectations.

His savings of about ¥400,000 dried up in about six months, but the school asked him to pay tuition of ¥500,000 for the second school year.

Because she couldn’t make the payment, she told the school in June that she would quit, and the school responded by threatening that she would have to pay a cancellation fee if she were to switch to a visa. of work.

According to a recording of a conversation between the woman and a school employee obtained by Kahoku Shimpo, the woman said she was in dire financial straits and had no savings.

Then the staff member said, “In that case, you will have to go back to your country. We will ask you to pay ¥3 million if you change to work visa or other visa. If you think you can change to a work visa, you are wrong.

When the woman entered the school, she signed a written oath stating that the signatory will not arbitrarily switch from a student visa to a work visa or otherwise and will abide by the rule of paying a fee. cancellation of 3 million yen if the covenant is breached. .

“Violation of human rights”

Asked by Kahoku Shimpo why there is such a rule, the school principal said: “There are plans to prevent people from getting a student visa for the purpose of working (in Japan) and to leave school immediately to find a job. If students change their visa for a work visa or another visa, we will not be able to maintain our activity. »

But the principal said the school abolished the rule because there were no instances in which the school had actually required a student to pay the cancellation fee.

A Written Oath Signed by a Vietnamese Woman Upon Entering a Japanese Language School in Sendai | KAHOKU SHIMPO

The woman was expelled from school and is currently working in Miyagi Prefecture.

Employees of other Japanese language schools have questioned the practice of charging cancellation fees.

“The cancellation fee payment rule is too excessive,” said Takahiko Yamada, director of the Midream School of Japanese Language in Tokyo. “Students may feel pressured to push themselves by working long hours or going into debt to fund their tuition.”

Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer familiar with foreign national issues in Japan, said, “It is a violation of human rights to restrict students with cancellation fees.”

“Schools must be in a tough spot as foreign student entries are limited amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but they should be offering support to students, such as extending the tuition fee payment deadline. schooling, so they can continue studying,” Ibusuki said. .

Support students

The number of foreign students in Japan rose sharply after the government announced a plan in 2008 to increase the number to 300,000 by 2020.

Department of Education data shows the figure rose from 160,000 in 2011 to 310,000 in 2019, meeting the government’s target a year ahead of schedule.

In particular, the number of students from Vietnam – a low-income country – has increased significantly, from around 4,000 in 2011 to around 62,000 in 2020.

“We cannot deny that the government’s plan to increase the number of foreign students has been used as a way to get cheap labor,” said Reiko Nebashi, professor of communication studies. at the Department of Information and Communication of Meiji University.

Nebashi describes the foreign student acceptance system as “an immigration side door,” compared to the front door for those coming on work visas.

Foreign students who work for low wages often face financial difficulties. They come to Japan heavily in debt and pay admission fees and tuition at Japanese language schools.

They are constantly struggling with these difficulties and the risk of being deported if their student visa is not renewed.

There are cases of foreign students being abused by unsupervised brokers or in workplaces.

“It would be too harsh to say that international students should take responsibility themselves,” Nebashi said. “It is necessary for the Japanese side to change its perception of foreigners as cheap labor and draw students’ attention to possible risks.”

This section introduces Tohoku region topics and issues covered by Kahoku Shimpo, Tohoku’s largest newspaper. The original article was published on February 27.

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