UPDATE TO SPOUSE VISA QUESTIONNAIRE ISSUE
By Arudou Debito, January 20, 2007
Background to the issue at
I visited Sapporo’s very friendly Immigration Bureau (Nyuukoku Kanrikyoku) yesterday to find out more about the Questionnaire (shitumonsho) for people marrying Japanese and applying for the appropriate visa. I talked with an avuncular Mr Yamamoto, Chief of the Inspection Division (shinsa bumon), and one of his associates for about an hour regarding the requirements for certain types of visas based upon conjugal status.
When I showed him the requirements, as outlined on the Ministry of Justice homepage (http://www.moj.go.jp/ONLINE/IMMIGRATION/16-1.html), he professed to never having seen them before, and found it an interesting read (he in fact asked to copy my printout, since the computers in his office are not connected to the Internet!–for fear of, he said, viruses). Likewise with the Shitumonsho (http://www.moj.go.jp/ONLINE/IMMIGRATION/16-1-25.pdf), which he said was not to his knowledge required in all Immigration offices. His associate later corrected him to say that it was now required nationwide, but nobody was sure from when. They are finding out for me.
Anyhoo, first some facts about the applicability of the form, which, as we noted before and will discuss below, is quite intrusive. It does not apply to every Spouse Visa (haiguusha biza). It only applies to those wishing to come to Japan as a married J-F couple FROM OVERSEAS. It also applies, they admitted, to some cases where people who get married in Japan, or have been married in Japan for some time but wish to switch their visas to a status involving marriage. Which means they will also have to fill out this questionnaire on a case-by-case basis. It is of course meant to sniff out fake marriages (i.e. people who have arranged or brokered marriages with Japanese merely in order to live in Japan). So in the eyes of Immigration, it is just a procedural matter, not meant to be intrusive.
We went through each section of the Shitsumonsho, where I asked them why this particular question was raised, and what they would do with the information. I also raised some reactions from the non-Japanese community, to hear how Immigration would respond:
SECTION ONE: THE COUPLE’S NAMES, ADDRESSES, NATIONALITIES, AND CONTACT DETAILS
This section we skipped because this needs no justification. Except the bit about telling Immigration about the size of your apartment and the amount of rent you pay.
JUSTIFICATION: “We need this to square away your lifestyle details. If we find that they’re living in an apartment that seems beyond their means, or is too cheap to be realistic based upon the size, or too small for the indicated number of occupants, we can get an idea if this marriage is genuine or not.”
When I asked them whether or not Japanese would be bothered by this question, or whether the size of your apartment really was essential information, they said probably and probably not. So we moved on.
SECTION TWO: THE COUPLE’S LOVE LIFE–THE STORY OF HOW THEY CAME TOGETHER AND GOT MARRIED
JUSTIFICATION: “We need this story because it’s the best way to judge the marriage’s authenticity (shin pyou sei). We can generally tell from this whether or not this is the real thing. Too many stories match each other, we know which are artificial or group-generated. Same with photos–sometimes these marriages of convenience have the same background in them. The more details and individuality, the better. It’s not unlike those checks you see for Green Cards overseas.”
REACTIONS: I then raised some questions about how Japanese would feel if asked to justify their love life to bureaucrats. After all, said some people sardonically, are bureaucrats so bored or voyeuristic that they need a love story put down on paper for them, to brighten their day or justify their kleenex use either above or below? What if the couple objected to this intrusion and said this was a private matter? And if this really is a story that needs credibility checking, what of the lack of cross-checking when one story passes for the two of them?
THEIR REACTIONS: “You can skip filling out this section if you like. There’s nothing in this document which says you must fill out EVERY section. We have to have this document ready for all occasions, so just don’t fill out the sections you feel don’t apply to you. Those who do everything in great detail will be more quickly judged, is all. Those who don’t will need more deliberation and questioning later. We’re trying to consolidate this all into one step.
“Look, we have to judge this marriage somehow, as you know–we can’t just let in everyone who says they’re married, when we know plenty of them aren’t really. But those who really object to this section are probably genuine marriages anyway.”
They had no real answer regarding the lack of cross-checking. And they admitted that Japanese would probably find having to justify their love to the State offensive. “It’s just a different situation when you’re dealing with Immigration issues.”
SECTION TWO POINT TWO: WHO INTRODUCED YOU? NAMES, ADDRESSES, AND RELATIONSHIPS PLEASE
JUSTIFICATION: “There’s plenty of brokers, fake and real, who arrange marriages both for love or convenience. If you don’t have any particular marriage broker (say, you met at a party), then don’t fill out this section; it doesn’t apply to you. But if there is a broker involved, we want to know who and where he is. There are criminal brokers out there we need to keep track of.”
SECTION THREE: YOUR LANGUAGE AND MUTUAL COMMUNICATION ABILITY
JUSTIFICATION: “We need to know if they can communicate with each other because real married couples have to communicate somehow, right? If they can’t, or if it turns out their professed communication abilities are not what we discover later in conversation, red flags.”
REACTIONS: I pointed out how questions like this would sit with some non-Japanese residents: In Japan, there is a preternatural curiosity with communications and conflicts in international relationships, even at an official level (see passim http://www.debito.org/enoughisenough.html#footnote7) What language do they speak together, what do they fight about, how do they resolve conflicts? There is a near-lecherous fascination with how Johnny Foreigner and Junko Japanese duke it out, and it’s none of anyone’s business.
There is also a question in this section about how the foreigner got so good in Japanese. Is a high degree of language ability a reason for suspicion?
Moreover, there are plenty of Japanese couples who cannot communicate properly even though they share the same language. Are their marriages suspect too?
THEIR REACTIONS: “Questionnaires like these overseas also ask about language ability, and we think it’s only natural that we do some sort of survey.” I did get a laugh about the noncommunicating Japanese couples as well, which helped our meeting coast to the end. (Rule of thumb: Make a bureaucrat laugh, magic happens.)
SECTIONS FOUR AND FIVE: WHO WITNESSED YOUR MARRIAGE, WHO CAME TO YOUR WEDDING?
JUSTIFICATION: “If it’s a real wedding, then there will be a real ceremony with the family involved, right? Shouldn’t be any stretch to give details if the wedding is genuine, right?”
REACTIONS: Not in my case. And not in many other cases, I’m sure. Neither my or her family attended our my first marriage, so there. Come to think of it, my naturalization procedure was less intrusive than this.
THEIR REACTIONS: “Well, okay.”
SECTION SIX: YOUR MARRIAGE RECORD–YOU BEEN MARRIED BEFORE?
JUSTIFICATION: “We ask this because there are ‘marriage launderers’ out there, who go overseas, get married, bring back a foreign spouse, then divorce. Repeat process. It’s lucrative. And no, the repeat marriages won’t necessarily show up on the Japanese’s koseki if they move their koseki around.”
REACTIONS: Well, okay.
SECTIONS SEVEN AND EIGHT: HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU BOTH CROSSED THE BORDER TO EACH OTHER’S COUNTRIES?
JUSTIFICATION: “Helps us see if they’ve got an extended relationship. If you met and have been here in Japan the whole time, this is irrelevant, so skip.”
REACTIONS: Does this data really mean anything?
THEIR REACTIONS: “Not really. We generally just give it a glance.”
SECTIONS NINE AND TEN: HAVE YOU EVER BEEN DEPORTED, AND WHY?
We skipped over this bit, because I can certainly see why this information is necessary.
SECTION ELEVEN: YOUR FAMILY TREE
JUSTIFICATION: “We need to know who’s with you and who’s connected to you. And who to contact to check on certain details.”
REACTIONS: You need names, addresses, and phone numbers of people overseas too? You going to contact them too?
THEIR REACTIONS: “Probably not.”
SECTION TWELVE: DO YOUR RELATIVES KNOW ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE?
JUSTIFICATION: “It’s only natural that they would know about your marriage if it’s for real, right?”
REACTIONS: Not in my case. Or in other eloping cases. Is this really necessary?
THEIR REACTIONS: “Well, even if you elope, they eventually know, right? Helps us if and when we call the relatives.”
CONCLUDING JUSTIFICATIONS: “This document is basically to make things easier for us and faster for you. If we have all the information in one place, such as in this document, then we can approve your application easier. If we don’t then we’re going to have to ask more questions. We need a procedure for checking on couples in this age of fake marriages of convenience–surely you understand that?”
REACTION: I do. But the image I get from the tone of this form is of an old patriarch of a family, trying to put the suitor through hell to get them to justify their love, and show how committed they really are to marrying their child. To some people, a few of these questions feel like ijime bullying.
THEIR REACTION: (laughter). “That’s a bit of a stretch, and not our intention. Again, just fill in the bits you want and skip the ones that are inapplicable or you consider too invasive.”
REACTION: Yeah, but given the threatening tone of the warning at the top and bottom (“Yeah, that is a bit shitsukoi, isn’t it.”), skipping bits does not feel like an option. And the discretion your agency enjoys, what’s to stop an arbitrary denial of your visa with no reason given just because we protest the intrusiveness?
THEIR REACTION: “People do file complaints and lawsuits against us for arbitrary refusals. It’s not as though there isn’t a check and balance.”
REACTION: The MOJ application site says here that there is no avenue for complaint or appeal.
THEIR REACTION: “Huh? That’s odd. Here, here’s the document containing the language you can file to appeal– “zairyuu shikaku ninteisho fukoufu ni taishite wa torikeshi soshou”). Immigration is obligated to tell you about this option. Dunno why it says you cannot appeal when people do.
“Anyway, we are in charge of our borders. That’s our job. Whenever there’s foreign crime or something faked to get a foreigner in Japan here illegally, people point fingers at us for letting them in in the first place. We do have discretionary power here, but that’s necessary. It’s an inevitable tool for us to do our job, and it’s something used by INS bureaus everywhere in the world.”
There you go. Fascinating discussion. Hope this gives applicants some idea how to deal with this questionnaire.
January 20, 2007