November 26, 2020

Japan to tighten visa screenings of foreign students, researchers to prevent tech theft

Japan visa foreign students tech theft

By The Yomiuri Shimbun/The Japan News/ANN

TOKYO — In a bid to strengthen national economic security, the government has formulated a policy of more strictly screening visa applications from foreign students and researchers looking to study or conduct research at universities in Japan.

Lying behind the move, which will start the next academic year, is the apprehension that advanced technologies and information related to national security have been flowing to countries such as China through students and researchers studying abroad in Japan.

The government will build a system under which the National Security Secretariat and ministries, including foreign, justice, economy and defense, will share information concerning questionable persons. Such information will also be utilized by Japan’s embassies and other diplomatic establishments in charge of issuing visas. If these people apply for visas, the government may refuse to issue them.

The Foreign Ministry has had ¥220 million included in its budgetary request for fiscal 2021, as expenses needed for activities related to implementing more vigorous screening of visa applications.

In recent years Washington and Canberra have been on heightened alert for China’s attempts to obtain foreign technologies systematically and strategically through the use of students studying abroad in the United States and Australia.

The U.S. Justice Department announced in July that it had arrested four Chinese scientists conducting research at U.S. universities on charges of visa fraud for allegedly lying about their affiliation with China’s People’s Liberation Army.

In the United States, there has been an increase in visa application rejections as intelligence agencies thoroughly investigate foreign students’ background and private information.

In Japan, there is no such screening as strict as that taken by the United States at the stage of visa issuance. This has led to such a situation that, as an expert knowledgeable about economic security put it, “Chinese students whose visa applications had been rejected by the United States have come to Japan, changing their target.”

As things stand now, fear has been spreading within the government that it might become impossible for Japanese universities or research institutes to conduct joint research with their U.S. counterparts.

Besides stricter screenings of visa applications, the government will reinforce its efforts to tackle issues in the realm of economic security, starting next fiscal year.

The Defense Ministry is considering establishing a new post of senior planning officer for economic security information in the Defense Policy Bureau. In light of the realities that countries around the world are competing to obtain new technologies such as artificial intelligence and lasers to apply them for military purposes, the officer will be tasked with analyzing the moves taken by other countries and considering protective measures.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will investigate international trends to prevent the outflow of state-of-the-art technologies that are owned by universities and other entities and can be converted to military use. On top of such an effort, the ministry plans to hold an explanatory meeting to urge businesses and universities to take thorough measures to manage and control their technologies. For such a purpose, the ministry has requested ¥1.87 billion as related expenses for fiscal 2021.


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