COVID-19 and IT Jobs in Japan

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty among prospective job seekers, especially those looking to relocate to Japan from overseas. To help people understand the current situation with regards to IT jobs in Japan, I contacted every company using TokyoDev, asking them three questions:

  1. How has your business been impacted by COVID-19?
  2. How are you handling the COVID-19 situation with regards to employees?
  3. What’s your approach to overseas candidates while travel restrictions are in place?

Based on their answers, and companies who proactively contacted about the situation, I talked to a total of sixteen companies. Although this is obviously a small number for the market as a whole, I think their answers are representative of tech companies in Japan that specifically hire foreign engineers.

Business impact of COVID-19 and hiring

For the majority of companies, this pandemic has yet to significantly effect their business. Many told me that it created new challenges, but those were balanced out by new opportunities. Because of this, these companies have tended to continue hiring as before the crisis, though due to the unpredictability of the situation a couple have implemented a general hiring freeze.

An exception to this were companies servicing the hospitality industry, which has been incredibly hard hit. While these business are pursuing new opportunities created by this crisis, they’re needing to minimize their expenses in the face of uncertainty, and so have halted on hiring.

On the other hand, a couple of companies reported that this crisis has led to a tremendous increase in demand for their services. Specifically, DMM Eikaiwa, which provides an online language learning platform, has seen huge user growth and even bigger utilization during this crisis. Also, Degica, who has many big clients in the gaming industry, is seeing record volume, and said they opened a Site Reliability Engineer position specifically to help them keep up with the demand the crisis is causing.

Besides the companies I’m already listing on TokyoDev, I had two companies who had never before used TokyoDev contact me about posting new opportunities. These are the first new inbound leads I’ve gotten in a couple of months, and a sign that more companies are thinking about hiring. This is probably due to the cautiously optimistic outlook on the domestic situation, with the state of emergency being lifted in most of Japan.

Treatment of employees during COVID-19

Japanese companies have traditionally been opposed to remote work. While the companies I list tend to be more progressive, most still didn’t allow remote work. Those that did have a remote policy tended to only allow it one or two days a week, still requiring employees to come in to the office regularly.

With this crisis, all the companies I spoke with have switched to working completely remotely. While some indicated they plan to revert to going into the office after the situation stabilizes, others have indicated that remote work is going smoother than they anticipated, and they will probably revise their policies towards it after the crisis.

A particular challenge with remote work in Tokyo is that many people have living arrangements that assume most of the time everyone will be out. For instance, a family with two working parents and a child might live in a one bedroom apartment. With daycares and schools being shutdown, having both parents working normally can become incredibly challenging, if not impossible.

Normally Japanese companies, even startups, tend not to be so accommodating to the needs of individuals, and rather have blanket policies for everyone. However, in this situation, it seems that most companies, at least those that I’m connected to, are being understanding of individual needs, and finding some arrangement that allows their employees to continue to work.

Another issue with working from home is that employees may not have the equipment they need to do their job. While in general, developers often have a good home setup, I’ve heard that others may not even have internet at home (they just use their smartphone for surfing the net, and don’t have any computer of their own). Companies have mentioned they’re providing financial support to help with these expenses.

COVID-19 and applying for a job from overseas

Travel restrictions currently make it almost impossible for non-Japanese citizens to get into the country. Additionally, while Japanese immigration is accepting applications for Certificates of Eligibility, the first step in obtaining a visa, processing applications may take significantly more time than normal.

Because of this, it’s currently impossible to relocate most developers to Japan. In response to this, two of the companies, LINE and beBit, moved to only recruiting local developers. HENNGE said they’d still recruit internationally, but would wait until restrictions were lifted to have the candidate actually start working. The remaining companies said they’d hire overseas people on a remote contract until the restrictions are lifted and visas are processed. These companies still desire candidates to move to Japan, and so there’s not yet been a shift to hiring remote developers globally from a longer term perspective.

While this situation makes it challenging for a company to commit to hire an overseas developer, at least during the interviewing process, it’s perhaps a more even playing field than before. Japanese companies have traditionally relied heavily on in person interviews, with remote interviewing often being an afterthought. With this crisis though, all interviews are being moved online, and so should be conducted in a similar manner whether you’re already living in Japan or not.

Uncertainty means more risk and opportunity

This situation continues to evolve. The companies who are continuing to hire as normal tend to be smaller startups, and so should the situation progress, they may quickly change their stance on hiring. This makes it a risky time to change jobs, especially one in another country.

If you’re not in Japan yet, you should understand what will happen if you quit your job to accept one in Japan, and either the offer is withdrawn before you move, or they hire you as a contractor and then terminate your contract.

If you do make it to Japan, or are already based here, you should similarly understand what will happen should a job offer be withdrawn or you are terminated. I’ll outline the basics, but please research it in more detail yourself.

Under normal circumstances, full employees have relatively good protection from being fired or laid off, and from a cultural perspective, companies usually only seek to lay off employees as a last resort. If you are terminated, and have been enrolled in Japanese unemployment insurance for at least six months, you’re eligible for benefits.

Working visas in Japan are not typically tied to your employer, making it easy to change jobs once you’re here. If you’re actively seeking employment, you can ostensibly stay in Japan until your visa expires.

Japan has a national health insurance system that makes it affordable for everyone to receive medical care, and you’re eligible to benefit from it immediately upon enrolling.

All residents of Japan as of April 27th, including foreigners, are eligible for a one time payment of ¥100,000 (though as of this article, I’m not aware of people actually receiving the money).

Because of the increased risk of the unknown in this situation, people that require stability, such as those with dependents, tend to stay put. This means if you are in a position where you can take more risk, you may be able to take advantage of opportunities you might not otherwise have.

More about the author

Photo of Paul McMahon

Paul McMahon

Founder of TokyoDev

Paul is a Canadian software developer who has been living in Japan since 2006. Since 2011 he’s been helping other developers start and grow their careers in Japan through TokyoDev.

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