international students in Japan
A restaurant employee wearing a face mask walks through the Chinatown area in Yokohama on May 26, 2020. Japan lifted a nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus on May 25, gradually reopening the world's third-largest economy as government officials warned caution was still necessary to prevent another wave. Source: Philip Fong/AFP

International students in Japan have been included in the government’s COVID-19 aid plan — but they must meet several unique conditions to qualify.

One particular criterion that has received backlash is a minimum GPA of 2.3 in the past academic year.

On May 19, the Japanese Cabinet approved a plan to give 430,000 students nationwide cash handouts. According to the Japan Times, this includes students at colleges and universities, as well as foreign students studying at Japanese language schools. The payment would help them pay tuition fees and living costs during the pandemic.

The criteria for international students were only revealed by Kyodo News after correspondence with local universities.

Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda explained, “With many foreign students eventually returning to their home countries, we have set a condition to limit the handout to promising talent most likely to contribute to Japan in the future.”

international students in Japan

Japan’s Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda (C) answers question during a upper house budget committee session at parliament in Tokyo on March 2, 2020. Source: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP

Which international students in Japan qualify for COVID-19 aid?

According to the plan, each qualifying student will receive a one-time cash handout via the Japan Student Services Organization (JSSO). Students from low-income households stand to receive 200,000 Japanese yen (US$1,800), while other students will receive half that amount.

The Education Ministry will depend on schools to determine which students qualify for assistance, based on these criteria:

  • have a GPA of at least 2.30 in the past academic year
  • have a monthly attendance rate of over 80%
  • experienced a 50% reduction in monthly income from part-time jobs used to support tuition fees
  • receive less than ¥1.5 million in yearly allowance from family (who must be living outside of Japan)
  • receive less than an average ¥90,000 allowance per month (excluding registration and tuition fees)
  • not be a dependent of someone in Japan earning more than ¥5 million annually
international students in Japan

Japanese Princess Kako, younger daughter of the Emperor’s second son Prince Akishino, arrives at the International Christian University (ICU) campus for an entrance ceremony to the university in Tokyo on April 2, 2015. Source: Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool/AFP

Should the aid apply equally to all students?

Based on the list above, only 25-30% of international students qualify for government aid in Japan. Japanese academics and student leaders have spoken out against holding international students to a different standard than local students.

Over 60% of international students in Japan rely on part-time jobs at restaurants and shops to support their studies, many of which have been hit hard by COVID-19.

“With many students working part-time to support themselves, it is hard for them to maintain high scores in their studies. The conditions set in the official relief package will impact these students,” Yuriko Sato, associate professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology told University World News. Professor Sato researches international students in Japan.

international students in Japan

More than 60% of international students in Japan work in restaurants and shops to support themselves. Source: Philip Fong/AFP

Kazuki Kimura from the student advocacy group FREE called the criteria “discriminatory”. He added, “We question the logic of these special conditions. It goes against the fact that all students applying have been affected financially by the coronavirus and need help.”

Besides that, a petition supporting cash handouts to all international students in Japan was also sent to the education ministry. It received over 56,000 signatures.

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