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To stay here long term, visa seekers need to prove they can pay their way

by Yuichi Kawamoto

Ms. A writes: “I’m in Japan right now looking to work as an English teacher but I don’t have the right visa. Right now, I only have a tourist visa, and I want to apply for the residence card as well. I have a place right now registered in my name. I know I can’t do freelance work without a proper visa so I’m in limbo, but I’m going to talk to schools about part-time or private tutoring.”

Mr. B asks a related question: “Is it possible to get a self-sponsored visa from outside Japan? I was in Japan on an exchange for one year and have been planning to get back there to work. Since I am not a native English speaker, it is hard for me to get one of the big schools — or the smaller ones — to sponsor my visa, although they seem interested in my working for them as an teacher paid by the hour without actually being hired.

“I am really excited about working and living in Japan, especially as it is almost certain that my wife will be going there from December. However, the more I research, the harder it seems to get a proper visa. What exactly would I need from a school that would help me get a self-sponsored visa?”

Obtaining a proper status of residence is a prerequisite to a stable life in Japan, but it can be difficult to get hold of the right visa. In some cases, individuals can have trouble finding one that matches his or her circumstances. Even if they do, it can then be difficult to find an employer willing to sponsor an application for a working visa.

Types of residence status

There are a number of types of residence status, and these can be classified into two categories.

The first, the 23 types listed in Appended Table I of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, are granted according to the activities you are permitted to engage in during your stay. Some statuses permit working (in the field of expertise defined by the status, such as “engineer” or “specialist in humanities/international services”), some only allow a part-time job on condition that you get hold of a separate working permit (e.g., “student”) and some do not allow any money-making activity at all (such as “temporary visitor”).

The second category of residence status, divided into four types in Appended Table II, is based on the person’s association with Japan (such as “spouse or child of Japanese national” and “permanent resident”). These statuses place no limit on activities, as long as the relationship on which the status is based (for example, being married to a Japanese in the case of spousal status) continues. The second category also includes “long-term resident,” which can be granted to those including — but not limited to — second- and third-generation Japanese descendents.

It is possible to switch from one status to another if the applicant qualifies for the new status, although the law requires that any application to switch from “temporary visitor” to something else must be “based on special unavoidable circumstances.”

Application process

To qualify for a status of residence of the first type — i.e. as an employee — an applicant must have a university degree or more than 10 years of experience relating to the field of work concerned (though there are exceptions) and an employment contract guaranteeing you can make a living wage while in Japan. You can be planning to work multiple part-time jobs rather than one full-time job, just as long as your proposed total income exceeds the minimum (said to be around ¥180,000 a month, though that’s not definitive), but the applicant must be employed — not contracted — for the work. Freelancers, including teachers such as Ms. A, are thus unlikely to be able to get this type of status unless they are offered fixed employment.

On the other hand, to be self-sponsored, a person would need to start a business of his or her own and apply for “investor/business manager” status. This requires that the business has an office within Japan and either hires two employees or involves an investment of at least ¥5 million. As it is very difficult to get a business started from outside of Japan, the prospective applicant may first have to come to Japan on a “temporary visitor” visa, prepare everything needed for the business and then try to switch the status to “investor/business manager” with the Immigration Bureau.

For more on self-sponsored visas, see the Sept. 4, 2012, Lifelines column, “Self-sponsored visas: a passport to freedom or a world of pain?” by Ashley Thompson.

If, as in Mr. B’s case, a spouse is eligible for some kind of residence status, the other partner can apply for a “dependent” visa or another one based on the status of the spouse. The “dependent” status allows residents to work part-time after obtaining permission separately to do so.

To get hold of a mid-to-long-term visa from outside Japan, you must first apply to obtain a certificate of eligibility from the Immigration Bureau in Japan. This is where you will usually need a sponsor, such as an employer or spouse, to back up your application. After all the required documents have been submitted either by the applicant or on their behalf, such as by their employer, successful applicants will receive their certificate of eligibility in the mail. The applicant then has to take the certificate to their nearest Japanese Embassy to get a visa.

In conclusion, Ms. A will probably need to either find an employer willing to sponsor her visa or invest in her own business if she wants to work in Japan. For Mr. B, his best course of action may be to first apply to accompany his wife on the “dependent” visa status and eventually switch to another status once he finds a steady job here.

Residence cards

To address Ms. A’s point, residence cards are only issued to those with mid- to long-term statuses, which excludes “temporary visitor,” so Ms. A will have to wait until she acquires a different residence status to get the card. As the Immigration Bureau rarely extends “temporary visitor” visas, she will have to apply for a change in status before her current one expires.

Yuichi Kawamoto 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) FISS lawyers address readers’ queries on the second Tuesday of the month. Phone 03-6809-6200. Send your questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.