University students everywhere miss class all the time, but when hundreds of them decide to stop showing up entirely, it isn't just a case of students playing hooky.
Tokyo University of Social Welfare is currently being investigated for losing track of almost 700 foreign students in the last year. In total, there are over 5,000 foreign students registered in the private university, most of whom came from China, Vietnam and Nepal.
University officials said that the number of foreign students going AWOL from the university continues to increase over the years. In 2016, the university lost track of 264 students. The following year the number of missing students nearly doubled at 493.
Makoto Watanabe, an associate professor of media and communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University, assumes that students who have gone missing are most likely still in the country, working illegally.
“We hear from time to time of students who drop out or simply never come to class, although to lose 700 in one year is a lot," she told South China Morning Post. "It’s quite clear that a certain proportion has only come to Japan to work illegally, while there are others who seem to treat it as a holiday."
Although Japan's known for their reluctance of welcoming foreigners in their workforce—until recently—they've always welcomed international students. As the country faces a population crisis, many universities count on foreign students to fill their classes.
Before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe passed the law that allows foreign workers into the country last year, the easiest way for people to find work in Japan was through student visas. In the last seven years, the number of Vietnamese students who entered the country has more than quadrupled. But once they arrived in Japan, many then became a key source of labor, would often be overworked and subjected to other forms of labor exploitation.
The minimum wage in Vietnam is around $118 to $171 USD. Meanwhile, as a part-time student worker in Japan, you can earn up to $439 USD. Seeing how much they could make from part-time work alone, many Vietnamese applicants use broker services to get their way to Japan. It’s not uncommon for those seeking to apply for a student visa to bribe banks and government offices to show that they have the minimum amount required for the visa.
In September 2017, 165 foreign students had their residency rights revoked after overstaying their visa and were forced to return home by Japan’s justice ministry. The Japanese government is now cracking down on universities with poor track records of foreign students and would most likely make an example out of Tokyo University of Social Welfare.
Those who have been caught overstaying their visas in Japan are on karihomen (or provisional release) status. While they’re spared from detention, they’re also required to renew their visa every month.
The university has yet to comment further on the matter so far.