A visa is necessary to establish legal status to work in Japan and without one, foreign nationals are generally not permitted to earn income in Japan. However, there is no general “working visa” in Japan; rather the term is a catch all for a variety of different employment based visas. Employment based visas that allow a foreign national to work in Japan are separated into specific categories such as “teacher,” “engineer” or “specialist in humanities.” These specific visas allow their holders to work in Japan but also limit them to the specific fields of employment designated by the visa.
One of the key interests for any government in setting up a visa based immigration program is to limit the number of jobs that foreigners are allowed to occupy, thereby protecting the local workforce as much as possible. To enforce these protectionist policies, many countries, including Japan, require employers to check whether their foreign job applicants have legal status to work before hiring them.
When a foreigner arrives in Japan with a long-term visa, a residence card can be issued at the airport. The card is linked to the type of visa that the foreigner holds and specifically lists the scope of the visa and type of work that the foreigner may engage in legally (for example “Specialist in Humanities/International Services” or “Professor”).
Foreigners living in Japan have a legal obligation to carry their residence card or passport with them at all times. Residence cards will usually be required for a foreigner to apply for a cell phone, open a bank account or find an apartment. Failure to carry your residence card can result in a fine of up to 200,000.