The Cabinet of Japan has approved “Internal Internationalization” Policies: Making Innovation Happen through the Interaction with International Talents.

※日本語版はこちら

閣議決定が相次いでいる「内なる国際化」政策:高度外国籍人材とのイノベーション創出のために

written by Kenta Koyama, Ph.D., Director of TKU Research Laboratory for Cross-Cultural Organization and Career Development.

My current research topic is mutual learning between Japanese and international employees in large (traditional) Japanese companies.

In terms of categories of visa (statuses of residence) to work in Japan, most employed workers have a visa of “Highly Skilled Professional” or “Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services”.

In this article, I focus not only on those international employees but also international students at Japanese universities who are potential international employees.
But foreigners who stay in Japan with “Technical Intern Training” visa are outside the scope of this article. Although the Japanese government recently decided to make a new visa so that foreigners with “Technical Intern Training” visa can stay and work longer in Japan, the political purposes are definitely different between foreigners with “Technical Intern Training” and international employees with “Highly Skilled Professional” or “Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services”.

By the way, the Cabinet of Japan has approved so called Internal Internalization policies in these years. Internal Internalization means increase of international talents within Japan. The Internal Internalization is one of the big governmental projects across ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

I would like to summarize the Internal Internationalization policies as below.

  • The purpose of the Internal Internationalization policies is to make innovation happen at Japanese companies throughout interaction between international employees and Japanese workers. It is NOT the main object to supplement workforce shortage in Japan with international employees.
  • The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the Internal Internationalization policies are numbers of international students (“300 thousand International Students Plan”) and international talents approved based on the scheme of “Points-based Preferential Immigration Treatment for Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals”.
  • The Internal Internationalization policies have put emphasis on increase of international talents so far. As the current trend remains, the KPIs will be achieved by the target years. Following this situation,  the latest policy plan “Growth Strategy 2018” includes rather qualitative practices such as enhancement of career education for international students and  improvement of Human Resource Management of Japanese companies.

Now, let’s see the Internal Internationalization policies in detail.


One of the origins of the recent Internal Internationalization policies was the Prime Minister Fukuda’s administrative policy speech at the Diet in 2008.

The Prime Minister Fukuda’s administrative policy speech at the 169th Diet on 18 January 2008 (in Japanese)

3. Building a vibrant economic society (Opened Japan)
〈第三 活力ある経済社会の構築〉(開かれた日本)

Setting and implementing the new “300 thousand International Students Plan”, more foreign talented people will be encouraged to study at graduate schools of Japanese universities and to work at Japanese companies by industry-academia-government collaboration..
新たに日本への「留学生30万人計画」を策定し、実施に移すとともに、産学官連携による海外の優秀な人材の大学院・企業への受入れの拡大を進めます。

(excerpt, translated by Kenta Koyama)

Following this speech, several Internal Internationalization policies have been implemented in order to increase international students and employees.


In July 2008, the “Council for the Promotion of Acceptance of Highly-Skilled Professionals” was established under the chief cabinet secretary in order to deliberate policies for acceptance of international talents. According to the council’s report on May 2009, international talents were defined as below.

Report of the Council for the Promotion of Acceptance of Highly-Skilled Professionals dated May 29, 2009 (in Japanese)

“The quality, unsubstitutable human resources who have a complementary relationship with domestic capital and labor”, and “the human resources who are expected to bring innovation to the Japanese industries, to promote development of specialized/technical labor markets through friendly competition with Japanese people and to increase efficiency of the Japanese labor markets”.

Source: website of the Immigration Bureau of Japan.

This definition puts much emphasis on innovation through friendly competition (=interaction or mutual learning) between international talents and Japanese employees. Therefore, international talents are NOT for the supplement workforce for the Japanese labor shortage, but they are expected to promote innovation at Japanese companies.


In May 7, 2012, following the council’s report, “Points-based Preferential Immigration Treatment for Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals” policy was implemented. The purpose of this policy is to attract more international professionals to Japan.  The three categories were set such as “advanced academic research activities,” “advanced specialized/technical activities,” and “advanced business management activities.” According to characteristic features of each category of the activities, points are set to each item such as “academic background,” “professional career,” “annual salary,” and so on. If the total points reach a certain number (70 points), preferential immigration treatment will be granted to the relevant talent. (source: website of the Immigration Bureau of Japan.)

As of December 2017, accumulated total number of the professionals approved by this treatment is 10,572. (source: website of the Immigration Bureau of Japan)


In June 2013, the “Japan Revitalization Strategy” was approved by the Cabinet of Japan. “The 300 thousand International Students Plan”, which was stated by the Prime Minister Fukuda in 2008,  was officially written in this policy plan.

Japan Revitalization Strategy  (cabinet approval on June 14, 2013)

2. Reforming the employment system and reinforcing human resources capabilities
(7) Strengthening human resources capabilities for global operation activities

The government will also strive to double the number of excellent foreign students from 140 thousand students in 2012 to 300 thousand students by 2020 (achieving the “The 300 thousand International Students Plan”)

(excerpt from p.52 )

As of May 1, 2017, there are 267,042 international students in Japan, increased 27,755 students from 2016 (source: Japan Student Service Organization (JASSO)) . If this trend continues, the target “300 thousand international students by 2020” will be accomplished.


In June 2016, the cabinet of Japan approved the “Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016“. It included two topics on international talents. The first topic was that a key performance indicator (KPI) was set for number of the international professionals approved by the “Points-based Preferential Immigration Treatment for Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals

Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016 (cabinet approval on June 2, 2016)

2. Development and securing of human resources through a multidimensional approach
2-3 Participation by diverse workers
(1) Progress in achieving KPIs

(Utilization of highly-skilled foreign professionals)
《KPI》 “Aim to recognize 5,000 highly-skilled foreign professionals by the end of 2017 and further 10,000 highly-skilled foreign professionals by the end of 2020”
⇒ A total of 4,347 foreign nationals have been recognized as highly-skilled foreign professionals by December 2015 since the introduction of the points system in May 2012

(excerpt from p.156)

As mentioned before, there are already more than 10,000 international professionals approved by the government. This means that not only the goal of “5,000 professionals by 2017” but also the other target of “10,000 professionals by 2015” have been already achieved.

The second topic of the “Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016” was to increase international students who can get a job in Japan. Only 34.5% of undergraduate international students and 32.1% of master-course international students got jobs within Japan in 2014 (source: JASSO). The “Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016” aimed that these percentages went up to 50%.

Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016 (cabinet approval on June 2, 2016)

2. Development and securing of human resources through a multidimensional approach
2-3 Participation by diverse workers
(2) Specific new measure to be taken
iv) Utilization of foreign human resources

2) Strengthening support for employment of international students and overseas students by Japanese companies
Aiming to increase the share of international students who find jobs within Japan from the current 30% to 50%, the Government will immediately draw up measures to promote the development of special programs by universities, including Japanese language education, medium- to long-term internship and career education. Further, as for students who have completed the special program with the appropriate certification based on the standpoint of the results of collaboration with companies and internship implementation plan, the Government will, with appropriate involvement of ministries and agencies in charge, provide preferential status of residence acquisition measures, including simplification of documents to be submitted required to take procedures for a change of status of residence and speeding-up of screening process for application, and then support the development of such programs by universities from the next fiscal year.

In addition, by strengthening the dissemination and advertisement in collaboration with a international student-related association and enhancing the internship and employment enlightenment seminar at Employment Service Center for Foreigners, the Government will promote the employment of international students in Japan through collaboration between relevant ministries and agencies.

(excerpt from p.159)

According to the latest report by JASSO, the percentages have gone up. 41.8% of undergraduate international students and 34.2% of master-course international students got jobs within Japan in 2016. (see appendix 1.)

Following the statement in the “Japan Revitalization Strategy 2016” as “the Government will immediately draw up measures to promote the development of special programs by universities, including Japanese language education, medium- to long-term internship and career education”, Japanese government started a new program. It is called “Acceleration Program for International Students’ Job Hunting” (translated by Kenta Koyama) . In June 2017, The government selected 12 universities which took initiatives for this new program.

Appendix. 1

JASSO’s another report of their survey in 2015 showed that many international students wanted to get jobs in Japan. The respondents of that survey were 6,036 self-supporting(funding) international students. And results were that 69.9% of undergraduate international students and 67.7% of master-course students said they wanted to work in Japan after graduation.
As the sample size of that survey was very limited, it cannot be directly compared to the first JASSO’s data of job hunting. But it could say that many international students have an intention to get a job in Japan after graduation.


In June 2017, the “Growth Strategy 2017” was approved by the Cabinet of Japan. In this paper, it was clearly stated that international talents are expected to “accelerates innovation and improves the productivity of the entire Japanese economy“.

Growth Strategy 2017 (cabinet approval on June 9, 2017)

3. Strengthen human resources development and activation skills
(2) Specific measures to be newly taken
iv) Utilization of foreign human resources

To overcome the fierce global competition in the 4th industrial revolution, the Government will positively accept excellent foreign professionals such as researchers and engineers with advanced knowledge and skills, who have growing demand from wide industries with the evolution and deepening of information technology, thereby accelerates innovation and improves the productivity of the entire Japanese economy.

To this end, in the intensifying global competition for acquisition of professionals, the Government will issue constructive messages to accept entrepreneurs and highly-skilled foreign professionals, while further improving the living environment of Japan, wages and employment personnel systems, as well as immigration and residence control systems so that these are made attractive for highly-skilled foreign professionals who are pursuing employment outside their countries, and create a strategic mechanism whereby those professionals can actively work over a long period of time in Japan..

(excerpt from p.105)

Therefore, the Government expects that more innovation will be made throughout interaction between international and Japanese employees. As I mentioned repeatedly, the main purpose of the Internal International policies is NOT to supplement workforce shortage in Japan with international employees.


In 2018, the Cabinet approved “Growth Strategy 2018“. In this plan, a new KPI was set as number of the international professionals approved by the “Points-based Preferential Immigration Treatment for Highly-Skilled Foreign Professionals“. As the previous KPI was already completed, the new KPI is 20,000 international professionals by 2020. Also “300 thousand International Students Plan” remains in this strategy.

Growth Strategy 2018 (cabinet approval on June 15, 2018)

2. Human resource development and optimum utilization corresponding to the AI era
2-3. Promote the success of foreign talent
(1) Progress in achieving KPIs

《KPI》 “Aim to recognize 10,000 highly-skilled foreign professionals by the end of 2020 and further 20,000 highly-skilled foreign professionals by the end of 2022”

《KPI》 “Aim to double the number of excellent foreign students from 140 thousand students in 2012 to 300 thousand students by 2020 (achieving the “The 300 thousand International Students Plan”)

(excerpt from p.112, translated by Kenta Koyama)

And some of the “Specific measures to be newly taken” in “Growth Strategy 2018” were on international talents. One topic was “coherent and seamless support” for international students’ career development throughout phases from acceptance to Japanese universities to career education / guidance, and job hunting. Another topic was  “improvement of employment practices at Japanese company” for international talents.
(source: Growth Strategy 2018, excerpt from p112-113 and 116, the statements between quotation marks were translated by Kenta Koyama.)


As explained above, the Internal Internationalization policies have been implemented across ministries, expecting international talents to accelerate innovation at Japanese companies.

But increase of international talents does not necessarily result in more innovation. There is a high possibility that miscommunication and conflicts between international and Japanese employees could result in less innovative workplaces.  Therefore, it is very important to try new practices (cross-cultural management) so that interaction between international and Japanese employees make more innovation at Japanese companies. In particular, as Japanese companies does not have an explicit job description, well-thought cross-cultural management is necessary.

That is one of the reasons why I took this topic for research. I would like to find success factors to make innovations through the interaction between international and Japanese employees.

Although there have been more international talents in Japan, the number of international employees within one company is still small. Sometimes I get feedback that my research topic is too narrow (niche).

But I believe that the current situation is a good chance for Japanese companies to establish foundations for their internal internalization practices throughout interaction with their few but valuable international talents. As Japanese companies have hired some quantity of international talents, now it is very important to move on to more qualitative actions to improve cross-cultural management.

In coming blog posts, I would like to touch on challenges and foresight of cross-cultural and diversity management at Japanese companies.