This week’s column deals with two inquiries from American fathers of bicultural children.
CJ is currently based in the United States, having returned to his home country to take care of an ailing parent after getting divorced from his Japanese wife. His two young children reside in Japan with their mother.
In recent years there has been a lot in the English-language media about international tug-of-love cases concerning bicultural children. However, CJ’s divorce was an amicable one, and his ex-wife supports his desire to come back to live in Japan and stay involved in their children’s lives.
While in theory this would seem beneficial for all involved, it reality it isn’t so easy for a foreign national to remain in Japan once they lose their spouse visa. CJ writes:
I know about the visa called the “family-related visa” and its stipulations. It specifically states that a foreign national who has been divorced and has minor children will be able to obtain an unrestricted visa, allowing the divorced parent to partake in any field of work he or she desires.
I applied for a work visa and was denied, so I am going to file again, only this time for a family-related visa. I simply want to help my ex-wife financially and show my kids that I really care. I want to know why this type of visa appears to be hush-hush. It would save the government money in the long run.
There are four categories of family-related visa:
1) Spouse or child of Japanese national: self-explanatory.
2) Permanent resident: If you are married to a Japanese national, you can apply for permanent residency after three years of marriage. (Single people usually have to have lived in Japan for 10 years to apply.) The obvious advantage of being a permanent resident is that you can stay in Japan even if you get divorced or your partner dies. However, there are certain requirements for eligibility, and being granted permanent residence right away is not a given.
3) Spouse or child of a permanent resident: again, self-explanatory.
4) Long-term resident: Includes refugees, descendants of Japanese nationals, those divorced from Japanese nationals and those caring for their Japanese children. It is this final category that relates to CJ.
Lifelines talked to staff in the visa sections at the Immigration Bureau and the Foreign Ministry. As CJ notes, the long-term resident option seems to be difficult to define. While both the people I spoke to admitted that a divorced foreign father like CJ could apply, neither one could provide specific parameters for the application. It very much seems to be “case by case” and is “a difficult procedure.”
Their advice to CJ was to find another reason to come to Japan first, such as getting a job and obtaining a working visa, and then apply for a long-term resident visa.
“The more documents he has to prove he can support himself in Japan and that the children need his support, the better his chances,” advised one person. “Documents would include proof of funds, proof he is the father of the children and proof that his former wife needs financial support.”
I asked until what age children would be considered dependents. “In principle up to 18, but it depends on the case” was the answer.
In a follow-up email, CJ shared the news that his application for long-term residency had unfortunately been turned down, but he hoped the information might be of use to someone in a similar situation.
Our next query comes from HM, the father of a teenage girl. Last year his daughter applied for a study-abroad scholarship aimed at Japanese high school graduates. The Japan-based organization behind the scholarship, the Grew-Bancroft Foundation, offers young Japanese the chance to study at liberal arts colleges in the United States. HM writes:
My daughter, who has Japanese nationality and a foreign family name, applied for this scholarship last autumn. However, only two business days after her application was received, a rejection letter was mailed out, and the ¥20,000 application fee was kept. Perhaps I’m just a protective parent, but are dual-national Japanese students eligible for the Grew-Bancroft scholarship? If so, has a dual national ever been awarded one?
“Protective parent” or not, those raising bicultural children in Japan will probably understand where HM is coming from. In some municipalities, having a non-Japanese parent disqualifies students from participating in English speech contests, irrespective of the fact that many such children have been wholly educated in the Japanese system and have never lived abroad. And the decision last year to crown Ariana Miyamoto, a biracial woman from Nagasaki, as Miss Universe Japan caused a backlash on social media, where some people questioned if a so-called hāfu could really be said to represent Japan.
In the case of the Grew-Bancroft Foundation’s scholarships, however, this concerned father can rest assured that having dual nationality and/or a foreign name has no bearing on the selection process.
“With regards to this issue, the only requirement for eligibility is Japanese nationality, as stipulated on the website,” says the foundation’s director. “We have had dual nationals among the previous winners.”
The director noted that the scholarships have been growing in popularity recently, with both numbers of applicants and scholarships awarded on the rise.
“Last year we saw a record 76 applications. Although we would very much like to award every applicant a scholarship, we must have some kind of screening criteria. Around one-third of the initial applications were selected to go on to the next stage, and from those we chose the final recipients.”
To date, around 130 Japanese students have benefited from the scholarships. In a joint Japan-U.S. statement released at the time of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan in April 2014, the Grew-Bancroft Foundation was recognized as “one of the nongovernmental programs indispensable for promoting people-to-people connections between the two countries.”
For more information on the scholarships and how to apply, visit the foundation’s home page (in English and Japanese) at www.grew-bancroft.or.jp/english/index.html#mission.
Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for NHK’s “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org