Chinese are flocking to Japan as language students, but many come only for the big money they can earn--20 times the wages they would get at home--in jobs outside the classroom, immigration officials say.
Some come in hopes of eventually getting to the United States.
Many fall victim to unscrupulous language schools that charge inflated fees for bogus study programs and introductions to the Japanese sponsors they need to obtain visas.
Foreign students in Japan are allowed to earn the equivalent of $1,000 a month, a fortune by Chinese standards.
Last year, 28,256 Chinese entered Japan to study Japanese, up from 1,199 in 1985, the Immigration Bureau said.
Many, if not most, use language study as a pretense to get into Japan. Only about 1,600 Chinese students came last year to pursue formal studies, from literature to management, at universities and graduate schools. They don’t fall into the category of those who come mainly to work.
The flood came after Japan changed its immigration rules in 1987 to permit language students to work as much as 20 hours a week.
“The Chinese come because they hear they can earn 2 million yen ($16,000) in two years,” said immigration agent Sadao Kawakita.
“The schools are vastly overbooking. In January we cracked down on 23 schools with a capacity of 5,000 that had accepted applications--and fees--from 15,000 Chinese--who now won’t get visas.”
The schools were ordered restructured by July. One, which issued phony sponsorship papers, was closed down.
Today 38,000 Chinese in Shanghai alone are waiting for Japanese visas. In December, thousands rallied at Japan’s Consulate in Shanghai, demanding visas for which they had paid brokers and protesting rules changes.
Japan requires that foreign students have guarantors--Japanese who earn at least 5 million yen ($40,000) annually and will vouch for a student’s good conduct and financial well-being.
Finding guarantors has become a big business. Student brokers borrow or sometimes invent names which they “sell” to Chinese desperate for visas.
“I paid a Hong Kong visa broker $2,700 (U.S.) to find me a guarantor,” said a 21-year-old electrician who identified himself only as Zhou. He had to borrow virtually all the money, he said, so he works 56 hours a week--in violation of immigration rules--at a restaurant and sends home 80,000 yen ($640) monthly. Tuition averages 30,000 yen ($240) a month.
Most Chinese language students work as day laborers or in restaurants, bars and small factories.
Wu Zizhong, 27, works six days a week at a small printing factory for 600 yen ($4.80) an hour, standard for Japan. He also works some nights sorting letters at a post office where about 100 other Chinese work part time for 1,000 yen ($8) an hour. He said he naps in Japanese class and during breaks at the printing plant.
He and other foreign students also violate the 20-hour work week rule. Violators generally get away with it because the students often work in more than one place and pay no taxes, so it is difficult for authorities to keep track of them.
Shen, a radio technician from Shanghai, said he saves 50,000 yen ($400) a month. He wants to bring his girlfriend to Japan and then try to go to the United States.
Shen paid 90,000 yen ($720) to his school--one of the 23 that were disciplined--to find his girlfriend a guarantor.
“Now they can’t do it, and I don’t think I’ll see that money again,” he said.
Like Shen, many Chinese dream of going to the United States, and some make it, usually if they have relatives there. Others go to great lengths trying.
A consular officer at the Bolivian Embassy in Tokyo said: “We get dozens of Chinese every day seeking permanent residence, but I don’t think they even know where Bolivia is.