Aug 5, 2017

Busting myths surrounding visas for Japan

Busting myths surrounding visas for Japan photo

Maybe what follows could also be entitled something along the lines of, "Frequently asked questions about visas for Japan". Actually, there are undoubtedly far more questions that need answering than those that will be addressed here but at least we can attempt a bit of myth busting surrounding some visa issues. There is a caveat however, all of what follows is based on personal experience. Unfortunately, especially in the case of something so important as a visa, personal experience is in no way an adequate substitute for definitive and authoritative advice from the officials. Still, we hope it can be a good place to start and to help assuage any visa panic that might set it. What follows will be an honest recount of the experience in question and we'll leave it up to you as to what you want to do with it.

Do I need a visa to travel to Japan?

Let's start with the basics, shall we? One would be tempted to answer, "Yes!" immediately here (taking a visa for travel in Japan as including those stamps you get upon arrival with no prior application).

Now, I need to tread carefully here as this should in NO WAY be considered as advice or a recommendation. In fact, I"ll make no mention of the nationalities of the people involved.

So, again, "Do I need a visa to travel to Japan?" Not necessarily, as it turns out.

A couple of friends (boyfriend / girlfriend)came to visit me and do some travel in Japan. This is going back about three or four years now. They both lived "back home" but one of them isn't actually from "back home", if you get my drift. In fact, they are from a country which at that time, required advanced visa application for travel in Japan. However, they'd been living "back home" (a country whose passport holders get the visa stamp on arrival in Japan) for so long, that it turns out they'd neglected to check on the visa requirements for Japan for citizens of their country of birth. When I turned up to meet them at arrivals in Narita there was only one of them. The other was being questioned in one of those rooms at immigration for naughty people. After the situation was explained to me, I felt like there was no chance of them being let through (based on Japan's tough asylum record). Ultimately though, they were given "permission to land" (carrying a special letter from immigration authorities to show around if needs be).

I'm not exactly sure what was said, but at one point I was passed a phone and had to explain to an official who I was and that my friends were "legit". I'm not sure if this had any bearing, but the friend in question worked at a pretty prestigious firm which had offices in Tokyo staffed with acquaintances, who I think may have been called at some point during the questioning. Anyway, after a good talking to, as I said, they were let through into Japan under the assurance that this would never happen again.

You'd have to say that they were very lucky. But on a point of issue, I was always under the understanding that airlines, at check in, shouldn't be letting people onto planes who aren't allowed to get off at the other end. It seems like this was some really slopping work on the part of the airline then, and of course my friend.

A success story but in the words of a kids TV show, "Don't try this at home!"

Can I leave Japan while my visa is being renewed or undergoing an application for a change of status?

Personal experience says, "Yes!" here. This personal experience dates back to around 2013 at a time when this expat had finished one job, applied for, done the interview and been accepted for a new job. In order to start work with the new employer I needed to change the status of my visa (the status itself is not important for the purposes of this post). Now, I'm one of those people who sees the end of one job and the beginning of another as great chance to get away for abit an always try to time these transitions accordingly. In this case, rather than waiting around in Japan for the "change of visa status" application to be processed I thought I'd head overseas for a few days.

I proposed this to the HR people at the new employer. They were uncertain about the legitimacy of it, even though I was pretty sure it would be OK. Still, one doesn't want a holiday to be plagued by uncertainty so I called the immigration "help" desk at the Tokyo Immigration Center. The problem with the people on the other end of this line is that they never seen certain about anything. I can't remember what they told me but I probably wasn't convinced about it. Instead, as is often the case, I got the Japanese partner to call one of the actual departments (as in one staffed by immigration officials) to suss the situation out. The response was that as long as I wasn't going away for a long time (that I would presumably be back by the time the application had been processed) there should be no problem. "No problem" - not the most convincing of language but it was enough to send me to the nearest travel agency to get tickets booked.

Departing Narita, I decided to fill out one of those applications to use the automated immigration gates figuring that a machine would be far less likely to raise eyebrows about me leaving Japan with an application in process. I was completely wrong. The gates didn't open (much to the chagrin of the person waiting behind me who was quickly regretting their choice to go "automated"). Anyway, some officials came out of the office to see what was going on, and I had the Japanese partner on hand to offer explanation. They took my passport with them back to the office and came out five minutes later giving me the OK. Turns out the machines got a bit confused.

Needless to say, I got back into Japan without any problems and collected my new visa status soon after.

Will I lose my visa if I quit my job in Japan?

That this should be a question at all is a damning indictment on unscrupulous employers in Japan (usually English-language schools). Although to be fair, they're just trying to protect themselves against itinerant teachers who realise what they've gotten themselves into and quit for pastures new after but a few weeks. Of course, maybe the guilty employers should pick up their working conditions a bit. Anyway, it seems to remain the case that some first-timers in Japan are being told that their can somehow take away their visa if they quit. Emphatically not true. A visa for Japan belongs neither to employee nor employer. It belongs to the state. In other circumstances this might sound a bit ominous but in this case it should come as some assurance, and the state won't strip you of your visa just for quitting work. Basically, if the people at immigration are keeping their English-language info up to date, if a visa holder is found to be not living/working under the conditions laid out by the status of their visa for three months or more, then procedures may be put into place for the revocation of said visa. Here's the relevant passage from a translation of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act ...

... has failed to continue to engage in the activities listed in the right-hand column corresponding to that status for three months or more while residing in Japan (except for cases in which the foreign national has a justifiable reason for not engaging in the activities while residing in Japan). (Article 22 - 4)

*NB - No translation of these acts are to be considered official

If we take this at face value then, you have about three months to find a new job. Either way, this expat has once quit their job in Japan mid-contract and the visa wasn't touched.

All this being said though, after quitting one's job in Japan you are supposed to inform immigration of this within 14 days. This doesn't mean that they'll be putting you on the next plane back home though.

Can I travel in Japan on a work visa?

This needs some explanation. After seeing out the contract of my first job in Japan I wanted to do some travel (aka bumming around) for a few weeks before heading back home. I certainly had the time left on my work visa. Now, the passages above already answer this question - Yes, you can. But I've always been a bit of a worrier so just prior to finishing work, I actually went to immigration and saw one of the officials there. Now, this is way back in about 2008, but at that time the official told me that if I wanted to hang around after work I'd need to apply for change of status to my visa (to what status I can't remember). This seemed like an unnecessary hassle but that's what I was told.

I took this to a Japanese friend who found it hard to believe. They opted to call the immigration office at Narita under the logic that these would be the people who ultimately oversee the departure from Japan. The official there said that there really were no rules in place to govern this kind of situation and that as long as the work visa hadn't expired at the time of departure, the didn't foresee any problems. So I stayed on and messed around for a bit. And left with no problems.

The biggest myth surrounding visas for Japan

Perhaps the biggest myth surrounding visas for Japan though, is that there are any definitive answers to anything other than the most basic of questions (like how to fill out a form, or things of this nature). Again, this is all personal experience but answers to questions regarding visas have the potential to change depending on who you ask, where and what kind of mood they are in. I've banged on about this before, but if this post is your first entry to my content about visas for Japan, I should bang on about it some more. When it comes to getting answers about visas, ask around. More specifically, get yourself put through to an immigration official rather than just the staff at the other end of the "help lines". Even better, get someone Japanese to do it for you, or, and this is a hassle, go in person to immigration (if you can bear it) and speak to an official face-to-face.

I have to stress again, all of what you've read here is just experience and not to be taken as authoritative advice or actually policy.

Do you have any answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding visas for Japan?  Spotted any myths about them?  Let us know in the comments.

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  • MommyRam

    on Aug 7

    I am just wondering if it is possible to apply for a Work Visa while the 3-year Dependent Visa is still valid?

  • Melina7774

    on Nov 3

    MommyRam, I am guessing my answer comes years after you commented, but just in case someone else need this info... My husband had a dependent visa for one year and he changed to a work visa only after 3 months of getting the dependent one. No issues.