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Visas for Japan

Having been here for more years than I care to remember, I'd kind of lost touch with what people have to go through when they step off the plane - or boat (my personal choice) - in Japan for the first time. Of course, it's the same for everybody, except for your 'visa' situation. When people refer to changing their 'visa status' or extending their 'visa', what they're actually talking about is their 'status of residence.' It really doesn't matter what you call it unless you're in the middle of being deported or some such, so we'll keep things simple and use the word visa from here on.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) Web site (see below) has all the information you could possibly need on this. In theory no-one should arrive in Japan without a visa but most countries have visa exemptions for visitors, varying from 14 days to 6 months. Once you're established here and need to, say, renew your visa or change your status, you're under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Countries with visa exemption status (as of October 2005. Some countries omitted)
6 months or less UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Mexico etc
3 months or less Canada, Belgium, France, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Israel, Turkey, Singapore, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Lesotho, Tunisia etc
90 days or less USA, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, New Zealand etc
Visa recommended Malaysia, Peru etc

In short, most people can just turn up in Japan and get permission to stay for anything up to 6 months. Of course, if you're coming to work but don't have the necessary visa yet, you should at least have a return ticket to show at immigration and an 'appropriate' reason for your visit. Things get a bit complicated later when you want to change your status from tourist to one of the working categories. You will then need a sponsor - usually your employer, although if you're prepared to go through the paperwork and have the necessary income, you can sponsor yourself (this is not a very common practice). The biggest hassle is then that people from most countries have to leave the country and have your change of visa status processed in a Japanese embassy abroad. The most popular destinations are Seoul or Hong Kong as they are close and return flights pretty cheap. Your sponsor may even pay for this trip (but don't bet on it).

For language teachers (the most common job for Westerners), the main requirements are that you be a native speaker and that you have a college or university degree. You'll probably have to produce the original degree and transcripts. Plenty of people work without having a 'working visa' and some language schools are known to hire people on a 'tourist visa'. But a quick look through the job classifieds will show you that most employers state that applicants must hold a valid visa. Hiring someone without one is skirting the law somewhat and is potentially risky so most employers naturally would rather avoid the whole process. Working in bars or restaurants pays less but may offer a more hassle-free, "no questions asked" alternative.

At the end of 1999, immigration offices quietly started issuing three-year extensions to working visas rather than the standard one year. I myself received this welcome extension although I didn't know anything about it until the day I picked it up. Yet another example of the shroud of mystery that the MoFA likes to maintain about these things.

Visa categories and types of residence status
Working Visa Professor
Artist
Religious Activities
Journalist
Investor/Business Manager
Legal/Accounting Services
Medical Services
Researcher
Instructor
Engineer
Specialist in Humanities/International Services (incl. teachers)
Intracompany Transferee
Entertainer
Skilled Labor

Visitor's Visa (temporary) Temporary Visitor *
Transit Visa (temporary) Temporary Visitor *
General Visa Cultural Activities *
College Student *
Precollege Student *
Trainee *
Dependent *

Specified Visa Designated Activities
Spouse or Child of Japanese National
Spouse or Child of Permanent Resident
Long-Term Resident

( * Statuses of residence not permitting work. Whether work is permitted or not depends on the content of individual permits)

The following info from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web site are the things most commonly faced by foreigners already in Japan.

Permission to extend term of residence (ie. visa extension)
This permission is required when a foreigner wishes to remain in Japan under the same status of residence after the originally authorized term of residence has expired. Applications must be made before the term of residence expires.

Permission to change status of residence (eg. from tourist visa to working visa)
This permission is required when a foreigner wishes to cease his or her present activity and engage in another activity covered by a status of residence different from the one originally granted.

This is also something you need to go through at much greater length if you decide to marry a Japanese and get a spouse visa, or if you want to become a permanent resident. There are conditions attached to both those visa statuses.

Re-entry permission
This permission is required when a foreigner residing in Japan wishes to leave the country temporarily and then return during the authorized term of residence.
(Single or multiple re-entry permits are available. A stamp costing 4,000 or 6,000 yen respectively has to be bought - sold at a post office near the immigration office - and attached to the application. Together with the 2,000 yen departure tax at the airport, this is a nice little money earner!)

Alien registration
Another procedure that foreign residents must not forget is alien registration, which they must complete at the municipal office of the area in which they live (not at a regional immigration authority). Foreigners staying in Japan for more than 90 days are obliged to complete alien registration. They will receive a Certificate of Alien Registration, popularly refered to as the 'gaijin card,' which they must carry at all times. Did I hear someone say Police State?


Links Top

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has several sites on: visas, the JET Program, the Global Youth Exchange program.

For info on the country's Immigration Centers, see the Ministry of Justice site.

The Japan Student Services Organization is a useful site if you're thinking of studying in Japan.

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