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Post-school life can bring visa complications

by Masako Suzuki

Special To The Japan Times

After The Japan Times published a Lifelines column on Dec. 15 that focused on visa issues, we received a lot of mail from readers asking about their particular individual situations. We would like to stress that it is always best to have a professional look at personal cases.

One interesting question that caught our attention, though, came from Eric:

I’m a small business owner in the USA and plan to spend one or two years in Japan as a language student while working part-time for my American company. I ran this by the consulate in Chicago and they said there would be no conflict as the work limitations apply to Japanese companies, not foreign ones. Is this correct?

During this time I’ll be covered by a student visa sponsored by the school. However, if I choose to stay after this period or otherwise live in Japan without student status, I’m interested in what options I have.

I can technically afford the investor/business-manager requirements, but honestly, my business would probably not benefit from having a Japanese office (we don’t have an office in the U.S. anyway; we all work remotely).

Are there any visa options for someone who has foreign income and wants to live in Japan long-term without a Japanese spouse, a Japanese job or attending a school?

If you go to a Japanese language school, you should be able to get student status, just as Eric says. However, to obtain a student visa the school you go to must be one designated as an educational institution by the Justice Ministry. A list of such schools can be found (in Japanese) at www.moj.go.jp/content/000107266.pdf.

Eric says he is planning to work while staying in Japan as a student. However, generally, you cannot work when you only have a student-status visa. You need to obtain permission to engage in an activity other than that which is permitted under the status you were previously granted. You are able to work up to 28 hours per week after receiving this permission.

If you want to stay in Japan after you finish with your language school, you must obtain another status, unless you decide to continue studying.

Roughly, the types of status of residence in Japan are divided into two categories. One is granted according to the activities you are permitted to engage in, and this includes student status.

The other is a category of statuses that are granted according to the association you have with Japan, such as having a Japanese spouse. These are listed in Appended Table II of the act.

In Eric’s case, it seems that he has no special association with Japan, so whether he can continue to stay in Japan or not depends on whether he can obtain one of the statuses listed in Appended Table I of the act.

Some statuses may be applicable in Eric’s case, depending on what kind of business he is engaged in. For example, an individual might be qualified to get the “specialist in humanities/international services” status if they have a degree in the humanities or at least 10 years’ experience in the field. Similarly, an applicant might qualify for the “engineer” status if they have a science degree or 10 years or more experience in the field. In both cases, it is necessary that the activities are based on a contract with a Japanese organization.

Since Eric is working for a U.S. company, the “intra-company transferee” visa status might also be a possibility. However, he is unlikely to qualify for this status because working in an office overseas immediately before the transfer is one of the requirements. If he applies for this visa after having been on a student one, he will of course have been residing in Japan.

Given all of this, the most realistic visa status for our reader would be the “investment/management” one he mentioned in his letter. However, he would need to be running a business with an office inside Japan to obtain it. It’s possible for a person to designate their residence as the office, but in such cases there are additional requirements that apply. For instance, one of the rooms in the residence would need to be used solely for the purpose of operating the business — and the owner of the building must give permission for it to be used as such. Additionally, the business needs to be big enough that at least two or more people are employed by the company.

The amount of investment to start a new business that would qualify you for an investment visa is, at minimum, ¥5 million. Furthermore, the business should be profitable. This particular requirement will be closely scrutinized, especially if there is an application to extend the status.

In conclusion, considering that Eric works remotely for a U.S. company, it would be difficult for him to change to another visa status.