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Despite of what you might have read online, I would like to put you mind to ease by saying that getting a work visa in Japan without a college degree is entirely possible. How do I know? I have a 3-year working visa and don't have a degree. No, I'm not an ambassador's son with any sort of secret government connections, nor am I a famous artist of any kind. I simply applied like any other candidate, except that I lacked the paper that would make the journey so much shorter.
Now that you know that it is possible, I have to add that it's not going to be easy. However, here are a few things you can do to help your cause.
Whether in your own field or in Japanese language studies, don't stop learning and expanding your portfolio. While waiting for my visa application, which took a consolidated period of a year with two soul-crushing failed attempts, I didn't just sit around at home feeling depressed. Sure, there were times I regretted not doing an extra year of school for a degree, or get filled with envy reading posts of my friends living exciting lives in Japan, but letting that put you down will just make you lose sight of the end goal.
Instead of moping around, I was freelancing, searching for full-time opportunities locally and in other countries and attending Japanese lessons. I even researched on part-time degree courses. What you are doing is simply helping the visa authorities to build a case to let you stay without a degree. Also, having money saved up will really help you enjoy your time in Japan, if you make it there.
Don't stop looking for jobs in Japan.
The challenge of getting an employment visa for someone who doesn't meet the qualification is enough to put any potential employers off a second interview. But don't give up just yet. You'll find ones that will go the extra mile to help you. Those employers are also the ones you will want to work for.
My first potential employers engaged a judicial scrivener and allowed me to continue working from Singapore while the application was pending. And when the first attempt failed, they restructured the application and applied again. Though they gave up after the second failed attempt, I was eternally grateful for the valiant effort and was happily employed for about half a year. I would not think twice if I would be giving the opportunity to work for them again.
During my holidays in Japan, I went to about 3 interviews/chats and my third one landed me my current job. Most of my interviews came through recommendations from friends who knew how much I wanted it. Making your intentions known will help as everything you do is geared towards a common goal. My employer went out of his way and strategised the best way to get me my visa, which included me having to dig up 7 years of financial record.
Pro tip: Keep a record of all your financials on a Google sheet, scan all your cheques and issue invoices for every job, however small.
Don't stop working.
A 10-year working experience is a valid alternative to supplement a lack of degree. While I did not have 10 years of experience, my employer made a case to say that doing 3 years of Polytechnic (pre-college) education in addition to my 6-7 years of experience should justify my lack of a degree. Whether you are just starting out in the work force or about a couple years in, what matters is that the longer you keep working, the better your chances.
Never give up.
If you want something bad enough, you'll probably get it. There is always a chance, however small. The only time where there's a 100% chance of failure, is when you give up. Three years ago, I left my job, citing wanting to working in Japan as a reason. I was naive, and only found out that I didn't meet the requirements to get a visa after finding a job. But if I had stopped trying then, I would not be writing this article from Tokyo right now.
Every request put through by my employer to build my case, I did. I even went to a Meet-the-MP session to get the Ministry of Education to write me a letter stating that a Polytechnic education is somewhat equivalent to three years in university. I was so thick-skinned that I requested that they amend the first letter to cater to my situation better. I was tenacious and was willing to do whatever it takes.
Seize every opportunity to improve your situation, whether it's increasing your language skills, and qualifications, embarking on aggressive job-hunting or expanding your social circle there. Just never stop trying.
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Still not sure? Maybe you are eligible for a working holiday visa, which is a gateway to a longer term stay and has relatively low requirements. See the requirements here (you don't need a degree!).
A lot of you in the same situation as I was have been getting in touch with me with regards to trying to secure a visa. I am sorry to say that what I have written here is all the information and help I can think of and provide. I am not an immigration expert, just a guy who didn't give up and got lucky. So for those of you who are serious about getting help, please invest in an immigration professional. Unfortunately, I am not able to respond to every one of you and help on each of your individual cases. Best of luck.