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A year on, what you should already know about residence cards and re-entry

by Masami Kittaka

Reader CW writes: “I’ve lived here 35 years and am a permanent resident. Recently I met an American who had just returned through Tokyo immigration and all the information about his work, residence and visa status was on his card but not on his passport. The passport had not been endorsed. Why is Japan the only country to my knowledge not endorsing visas in the passport?

“Secondly, I’ve been trying to get an exact copy in English of the new immigration law that was passed by the Diet and went into effect last July. I’ve asked three lawyers and have been to the National Diet Library twice but still can’t find it. Why is this so?”

It has been almost a year since the new residency management system was introduced in July 2012. The new system applies to medium- and long-term foreign nationals in Japan with legal status of residence.

The stamps in passports have not been abolished under the new system. For short-term visitors, the seal indicating permission to land is still stamped on passports at ports of entry. However, if you are a new resident planning to stay here for the longer term, you will be issued a residence card (zairyū card) at certain airports upon arrival (Narita, Haneda, Kansai and Chubu). If you enter Japan via another hub, the new card will be sent to your registered address in the country a few days later instead.

Previously, the stamp was issued to all foreign arrivals by the Immigration Bureau and the “alien registration certificate” (aka “gaijin card” or ARC) was distributed to residents by their local municipal office. Under the new system, residence cards are issued by the Ministry of Justice, which now administers all the information centrally on foreign residents from their entry into the country until their departure, including changes of circumstances along the way. The aim of the new system is to more tightly regulate the residency status of legal medium- to long-term residents.

If you are living here and don’t already have your residence card, don’t worry, as there is a considerable grace period before you need to make the switch from the old ARC cards.

Nonpermanent residents still using the ARC will receive a zairyū card the next time they change or renew their status, for example. Permanent residents need to apply for a residence card within three years after the introduction of the new residency management system, which means you still have two more years to play with.

The other major change under the new system is the introduction of the “special re-entry permit.” Now, as long as you have a valid passport and residence card (or ARC), you should be able to leave and re-enter the country within one year (for special permanent residents, two years) of your departure date without having to get re-entry permission separately, as was previously the case.

The only thing to remember with the new system is that you have to indicate your intention to return in the space provided on the embarkation card for reentrants you receive when you leave the country. The date you are expected back in Japan (whichever comes first: a year to the day from departure or the expiry date of your visa) will then be stamped on the back of the embarkation card for re-entrants — the passport won’t be stamped at all.

If you plan to be out of Japan for more than one year (or in the case of special permanent residents, more than two years), you will need to apply for a re-entry permit at your local immigration office as before.

An official English translation of the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act has not been made available yet. The Ministry of Justice is currently working on a translation, which will then be made public at the ministry’s Japanese Law Translation site (www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp). The version available on the site now is a 2009 translation of the act before the latest revisions. Please be careful to check the date of amendment and translation if you rely on translations from this site.

Although the text of the revised act is not available in English, you can find information about the revised act and the new residency management system in English on the Immigration Bureau’s website at www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/index.html.

Masami Kittaka is an attorney with the Foreigners and International Service Section at Tokyo Public Law Office, which handles a wide range of cases involving foreigners in the Tokyo area (www.t-pblo.jp/fiss) Phone: 03-6809-6200. Send your questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp .