The corona virus pandemic has sent the world economy into a downward spiral and one of the biggest worries people are facing worldwide, including us in Japan is losing our job. For us foreigners the situation becomes even more complicated because losing the job also means losing our visas and hence the right to stay on in the country.

The Japanese government usually gives you 3-4 months to look for another job till they act on your visa, but the bigger and immediate problem is how to fend for yourself while you are desperately job hunting. Living on your savings is an option, but not many of us know that the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare has provisions under which you can claim both unemployment and housing benefits.

Let us talk about the unemployment insurance or koyou hoken (雇用保険こようほけん) first.

What is Unemployment Insurance

It is a user pays system that provides unemployment benefits. User pays means that to utilize the benefits of this system you need to first pay into the system. So how do you pay for unemployment insurance. Unemployment Insurance is managed by the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare as a part of shakai houken or social Insurance that is deducted from your salary each month. Premiums are calculated at a certain percentage of each worker’s total wage. Part of the premium is paid by the employer and part of it by the employee. 
In case you are a free-lancer or part time worker, you would need to pay your Insurance on your own under the kokumin kenko hoken (国民健康保険こくみんけんこうほけん) or the National Health Insurance.

How does it work!

The unemployment benefits are managed by Hello Work which is a National Organization with branches all over Japan. If you have lost your job your first step should be to go to the Hello Work office and notify them of your unemployment status. 
You would need to fill up a form and also submit the following documents:

  • A rishoku-hyo or separation notice. This is given to the employee by their employer when the employee is terminated or has resigned.
  • Insurance card
  • Resident card
  • A recent photograph
  • Bank details

The letter from your employer should clearly state the reason for termination. If you were laid off or your contract was not renewed it would also help to have an email or any communication in which you have asked that your contract be renewed – basically proof that you were keen to continue working. If you have quit your job, and have no valid explanation as to why you quit, this will go against you. Hello work needs to be convinced that you are indeed serious about working and had to leave or resign due to reasons beyond your control.

The key thing to remember is that unemployment Insurance in Japan is not for people who are unemployed for long term. It is simply to help you tide over while you are between jobs and are looking for another job. Once you have submitted your papers, you need to wait for around a week till you start receiving your unemployment benefits.

How much do you get?

The amount of money you receive depends on various factors such as your age, your employment history, no. of years you have worked and your salary. The usual payment is between 60-80% of your last salary. Surprisingly if your last salary was quite good then you will be paid less in benefits because hello work would just assume you have savings put by. Lesser your salary, higher the benefit amount.

Utilizing Hello Work

Apart from helping you with unemployment insurance Hello work also maintains a data base of job offers over their website. They also offer employment consultation, tips and training on how to appear for an interview and even proof read your resume for you. The expectation is that while you are receiving your unemployment benefits you will also be actively searching for a job. To prove your seriousness in getting another job you need to show Hello work proof of that you have applied for some jobs. They can go ahead and check with those companies if you have indeed applied there. 
You will also be assigned a Hello Work case worker who will have meetings with you once every few weeks. Make sure you don’t miss these appointments because missing these would portray that you are not serious about looking for another job.

Once your unemployment Insurance is sorted, you can also start utilizing the Housing security benefit.

What is the Housing Security Benefit (住居確保給付金じゅうきょかくほきゅうふきん)

The housing security benefit is meant to provide support to people who have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours through no fault of their own as well as independent business owners whose businesses has shut down or drastically reduced because of a distressed economy – for example during COVID.

This scheme was first introduced in April 2015, but since last year, has been amended significantly in order to ease conditions following the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier one had to register through Hello work to avail this benefit but since April last year, independent support centers have been opened to make the process easier.

If you qualify for the housing security benefit the government will pay your rent directly to your land lord for a minimum of 3 months to 9 months.

How to get the Housing Security Benefit

You would need to contact your local government office to avail this benefit. Along with the form you need to fill you will be asked to submit the following documents:

  • Residence card
  • Letter of separation from employer or Non-renewal notice of work contract
  • Unemployment Insurance card
  • Proof of reduced business hours or Business closure (In case of independent business owners)
  • Proof of income of all family members
  • Copy of rental agreement

Upon receiving your application, the local government will take time to assess it and let you know if you qualify for the benefits or not. If you do, the local government will start paying your rent directly to your landlord.

The grant amount is paid based on the total current income of the household and varies from case to case. Each local government has a designated qualifying income for households and If the government feels that even though you have lost your job, the income your household members is still pretty good, it may reduce the grant amount.

These are very uncertain times, but it helps to know that schemes like the unemployment insurance and housing security benefits are there to help everyone, including foreigners working and living in Japan.