Japan Visa Guide

11 years ago by in Japan


Visas, Certificates of Eligibility and Status of Residence

Let’s get one thing immediately out of the way: It’s not about visas. Even though many foreign residents in Japan discuss what kind of visa they have, they are talking about the wrong thing (unless they are married to a Japanese national). To clear this up before we get into the whole confusing and sometimes seemingly nerve-wracking process, for clarity’s sake, a visa is what you get from an overseas Japanese embassy before you depart for Japan if:

1) the Japanese government requires that someone of your nationality have a visa before entering the country; or
2) you are planning a visit to Japan for other than short term business discussions or as a tourist..

Which brings us, more importantly, to the mysterious Certificate of Eligibility. A Certificate of Eligibility is required to obtain an actual visa if you are entering Japan from abroad for a long-term stay or if you want to change your status of residence from “temporary visitor status of residence” to a working status. Essentially the document proves that you are a qualified individual – a college graduate or or SOMEONE WITH a 3-10 year track record of employment – who will be able to contribute to the working world in Japan. To obtain a certificate of eligibility for most working statuses, in general you will need:

・Documentation of the hiring company’s registration and business activities

・Your university diploma

・A resume of your working career (for college graduate, in general, there is no working record requirements)

・A contract from the company showing how long you will be working for them and how much you will be paid

More Information on the Application for Certificate of Eligibility here.

Required documents for Certificate of Eligibility by profession are listed here.

The Certificate of Eligibility process can take from one up to three months, during which time you are technically not suppose to work in Japan (Read into that what you will). Once it is completed, if you are already in Japan, you may then apply for a “change of status,” to convert from being a “temporary visitor” to having a “working status.” This is the final step to being able to live in Japan for work. To receive the new status of residence, the application requires:

・The application form

・Your Certificate of Eligibility

・Your passport (and alien registration card if you already have one)

More Information on the Application for Change of Status here.

Once approved – for most applicants as an Intracompany Transferee, an Engineer, a Specialist in Humanities or an Investor/Business Manager, you will have the right to reside in Japan for one to three years (and up to five years starting in 2011) – all without a visa. Who needs visas? We don’t need no stinking visas.

Steps toward a working status

1) Obtain a Certificate of Eligibility

2) If overseas, use this to receive a visa

3) Apply for a change of status appropriate to your profession to receive a working status

Self-sponsorship and Investor/Business Manager status

Many people working in Japan are not here by coincidence but because of a real desire to live in the country. When economic times are bad and it becomes difficult to find corporate sponsors in Japan — as happened after the “Lehman shock” of 2008 when the international financial industry caused a world wide slow down – those who were once guaranteed a working status by their former employees can find that they have been left to their own devices to secure the right to live in the country.

“I have many clients that have this problem,’’ says Kyohei Niitsu of the Niitsu Legal Office in Hiroo. “I suggest that they set up their own company if they have a good idea for a business in Japan.’’

Fortunately, there are several ways to self-sponsor if it is impossible to find an organization willing to go through the process for you or set up your own company. For individuals with the resources, it is possible to start up a company that can act as a sponsor for the business owner. Called an Investor/Business Manager status, the requirements are:


1) 5 million yen in initially invested capital

2) Two fulltime employees or similar scale

3) An office space separate from your living space

Many immigration lawyers can help with not only the application process to achieve working status, but also with the establishment of such a company. Whether the company performs well as a business need not be the point. With the investment of the capital, the owner is allowed the right to reside in Japan under the status of being an Investor/Business Manager.

A second form of self-sponsorship is more for the convenience of a company that wishes to avoid being involved in the application process itself or being responsible for a full time employee. Those looking to receive working status can now show a contract from a company that acts, in a sense, as a “guarantor” that promises to pay the applicant on a freelance basis the equivalent of what a Japanese citizen needs to get by.

‘’The company doesn’t necessarily employ them or apply for the visa for them, they simply provide a contract. The company pays compensation, but not as a salary,’’ says Tomohide Koh of the Mita immigration law firm Office Cosmpolitan. ‘’The individual should be a so-called freelancer, so it is like an ‘entrustment’ contract. But you need to prove to the Immigration Bureau that you can make a living with the work that you receive from the company. You don’t have to work exclusively for them, but the amount of compensation from the company has to be enough to support the applicant.’’

Some people have been able to use a third form of self-sponsorship in which the applicant shows letters from three sources of income proving that they are receiving from these organizations in total the standard cost-of-living expenses for a Japanese citizen (around 200,000 yen). In addition to applying for a Certificate of Eligibility by yourself, such applications often require extra paperwork including evidence of the payment of taxes, to prove that the applicant has acted as a responsible member of Japanese society.

For these less usual forms of application, the rules can be unclear and vary depending on individual circumstances. Not only is the history of the applicant in Japan one factor, but the size of the company they work for can make a significant difference.

‘’Now the Immigration Bureau is categorizing applications based on the size of the company applying. The bigger the company is, the less documents the bureau requires,’’ says Office Cosmpolitan’s Koh. ‘’If the company is smaller, they will also require a certificate proving the payment of taxes, and the company’s certificate of withholding tax. But the number of documents required for bigger companies have been drastically reduced.’’

In such cases, to find out what is exactly required – as requirements and guidelines change over time – it can be best to consult with an immigration lawyer to find out an update at least if not actually use their services.

No work but you want to stay

With a tough job market, finding not only a single corporate sponsor, but enough freelance work to obtain working status can be near impossible. The Immigration Bureau is actually fairly understanding of the situation if a foreigner has lost their job, and in the wake of the “Lehman shock” allowed job seekers a little extra leeway in their allotted stay in Japan.

‘’Right now, if a job holder loses their job not of their own accord — they are fired or not re-hired under their contract — in that case, the Immigration Bureau will allow them to stay in Japan until their visa expires, but they need to show that they are looking for a job. In this period, they can do part time jobs by an additional permission’’ says Masahito Nakai, Managing Partner of the Shiba Daimon-based Nakai Immigration Services law firm. ‘’Such cases will have to prove that they have been looking for work, either through documentation from Hello Work or contact with a head-hunting agency. In fact, if the visa expires, the immigration office may even give a 90-day temporary visitor status to continue to look for a job.’’

Spousal visas and permanent residency

The one time a long-term resident of Japan may come in contact with a visa is if they are married to a Japanese national. It is then possible to trade your working status for a spousal visa. Is it worth giving up your corporate sponsor for your matrimonial one? It depends on which is more dependable, joke the lawyers.

If you choose to apply for a spouse visa, there are two advantages. First, you are no longer limited by your working status in terms of the kinds of jobs you can hold; as a spouse, you can do anything you like in Japan for work.

‘’Under a spousal visa, you can work any kind of job with out limitations,’’ says Nakai of Nakai Immigration Services. ‘’You can be both an editor and an engineer. You could wait tables in Roppongi.’’

The second concerns permanent residency status: after being married for only three years, you can apply for permanent residency, rather than be required to show a 10-year employment record in the country.

For someone that is not married to a Japanese national, there are several other considerations before they are granted permanent residency. The Immigration Bureau says that the requirements are that the applicant has resided in Japan for more than 10 years consecutively and has paid their taxes (and never been imprisoned), though they may also be granted permanent residency if they have at the least a record of living more than five consecutive years in Japan. What is most important regardless of whether the applicant has been in the country more than five or more than 10 years is that their chances of becoming a Permanent Resident depend on whether they can prove that they are contributing to Japanese society in a meaningful way. This of course is up for interpretation, and seems to vary depending on the region granting the status of Permanent Residency. To assist applicants in understanding better what this means, the Immigration Bureau helpfully provides a list of successful cases for application here (http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/zairyuu/eizyuu.html).

The value of working with an immigration lawyer

For immigration lawyers, about 50 percent of their business comes from corporate clients who are trying to place employees in their Japanese branches. But the rest is from individuals, whether business owners, company employees or freelancers who want a little help dealing with the vagueries of the Immigration Bureau. Or simply are too busy to put in the time correctly filling out applications and standing in line.

‘’Buying time. Straightforward case, for some people, it’s buying time. Difficult case, it’s buying time and some safety,’’ says Nakai of Nakai Immigration Services. His Account Manager, Bernhard Michio Flasar adds, ‘’It’s also know-how. We are dealing everyday with the authorities. We are always up-to-date about the current situation and are well aware if some part in their screening right now has become more strict. Two or three years ago there was a very strict measure, especially in screening of domestic helper applications, so there was a rush of people looking for help with them.’’

‘’We can provide a very quick and accurate service for foreign people who want to enter to Japan or stay in Japan,’’ says Koh of Cosmopolitan Office. ‘’Our services can help avoid an unnecessary troubles.’’

Niitsu of Niitsu Legal Visa Office says, “I can not only make the official legal contracts for applicants, I can negotiate with the Immigration Bureau officers directly.”

Changes in the laws

By July 2012, three major changes in the immigration system will take place. To consolidate information about foreigners residing in Japan, the Immigration Bureau will abolish the Alien Registration Card now issued by ward offices to those who hold working status and replace it with a Resident Card. Though the Resident Card will be issued by the bureau itself, it will probably still be necessary to go to the ward office to register your living address.

With the creation of the Resident Card, the bureau will do away with the re-entry stamp system. Currently, after receiving your work status, it is necessary to buy a stamp at the Immigration Bureau (3,000 yen for single permit or 6,000 yen for multiple permit) that allows you to return to Japan if you have left the country. Now, as long as you return within one year, it will be assumed that you have permission to re-enter the country.

As of 2010, the most years that a residence would be granted to stay was three. That will be increased to five years, though the reasoning behind by one applicant may get the meager one and another the max is just as unclear as ever.

Niitsu Legal Visa Office

Niitsu sensei specializes in working visas, spouse visas and permanent visas. He has worked extensively in the field of immigration helping many companies to set up base and contracts for legal work.

His experience working with many clients throughout the years allows him to tackle many unique situations. He can help with problems concerning:

・a Japanese spouse
・working in a Japanese company
・inviting your family to Japan
・having your visa application rejected
・overstay in Japan (staying in Japan with expired visa)
・applying for naturalization

In addition to visa related issues, he also has in depth knowledge in copyright registration, drafting copyright contracts and can also consult on other copyright issues.

His office is located 3 minutes away from JR Ebisu station and offers free consultation. He can provide help in both English / Chinese, and can be reached here:

Niitsu Legal Visa Office
4F DOT 1-7-20,Hiroo,
Tokyo 150-0012
TEL: +81-03-3443-5112 FAX: +81-03-3443-5119
E-mail: info@niitsu-law.jp
Homepage: http://niitsu-law.jp/

Nakai Immigration Services LPC

Nakai Immigration Services is one of Tokyo’s longest established immigration law firm and with over 18 years experience with foreign clients from large fortune 500 and individual clients. They file thousands of applications each year giving them extensive practical experience in this field.

Their specialties include
For obtaining visa to enter Japan
・Certificate of Eligibility
・Student “Visa”
・Working “Visa”
Permanent residency

Company establishing
Visiting Japan for short period

Nakai Immigration is situated close to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau allowing them to file any urgent applications in a time- and cost-efficient manner. If you can supply them the required documents in time, they can return your passport back to you on the same day with certain application types.

They have a young, energetic team of international staffs and can assist in English, Spanish, German and Chinese to provide a truly multilingual service.

Nakai Immigration Services LPC
5th fl., Shiba Eitaro Bldg.,
1-4-14, Shiba Daimon,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 105-0012
TEL: +81-3-6402-7654 FAX: +81-3-6402-7650
Homepage: http://www.tokyovisa.co.jp/

Office Cosmopolitan

Established by Tomohide Koh Sensei. Office Cosmopolitan has over 15 years experience in helping both individuals and foreign financed companies expand their presence in Japan.

Koh Sensei has co-authored a number of publications including
Immigration law client strategies in the Asia Pacific and Setting up business in Japan.

Office Cosmopolitan has another licensed immigration lawyer other than Koh Sensei.

Office Cosmopolitans services encompasses
Immigration (visas) procedure for foreign- financed company
Support services for foreign companies doing business in Japan
Incorporation procedures
Business license acquisition
Working Status (visas) in general
Non working status(visas)
Permanent residency
Spouse of Japanese
Long term residency
Labor and social insurance procedures
Personnel management

Their team offers support in Japanese, English and Korean.

Office Cosmopolitan
#404 Maison de Hijirizaka,
4-15-36 Mita,
Minato-ku Tokyo 108-0073
Access Map
TEL:+81-3-5427-7165 FAX:+81-3-5427-7166
Homepage: http://www.legal-service.jp/

Azuma Legal and Business Support Center

Founded by Yoshinobu Ogawa. Ogawa sensei is both a Representative and Administration Lawyer. Ogawa sensei helps individuals and business professionals to establish themselves in Japan as an individual or as business legal entities. He also provides help in supporting the administrative paper work of the company.

His services include:
Corporate foundation – For individuals looking to start a company for the first time Ogawa sensei walks you though the different types of companies you can file for and find the most suitable type based on the kinds of activity you plan to engage in.

Immigration (Visa) – Along with establishing your legal entity, he can help you file for the required legal documents.

Administration – Azuma provides support to new business in Japan by handling their book keeping, and finance statements. They also offer help with other legal documents as your company grows.

Azuma Legal and Business Support Center
Rafine Higashi Ginza 209,
4-4-14, Tsukiji,
Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045
TEL&FAX 03-6226-5105
Homepage: http://www.azuma-law.com/index_e.html