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  • UPDATE: Visiting Immigration re Spouse Visa questionnaire

    Posted by arudou debito on January 20th, 2007

    Hi Blog:

    UPDATE TO SPOUSE VISA QUESTIONNAIRE ISSUE
    IMMIGRATION’S STANDPOINT

    By Arudou Debito, January 20, 2007

    Background to the issue at
    http://www.debito.org/?p=158

    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.
    (http://www.debito.org/residentspage.html#naturalization)

    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.

    (Scanned image of that form here. Click on thumbnail for larger image)
    Japanese
    appealimmigsoshou001.jpg
    English
    appealimmigsoshou002.jpg

    “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.

    Arudou Debito
    Sapporo
    debiito@debito.org

    http://www.debito.org

    January 20, 2007
    ENDS

    9 Responses to “UPDATE: Visiting Immigration re Spouse Visa questionnaire”

    1. debito Says:

      Matt Dioguardi also comments on this issue on his very informative blog:

      http://japan.shadowofiris.com/immigration/comment-on-moj-immigration-bureau-violates-privacy-of-marriage/

      excerpt:

      Recently Debito commented about the requirements to get a spouse visa in Japan.

      As usual Debito makes some really good points. There are several ways to look at these questions, but let me merely make a modest proposal and judge the questions based on two criteria:

      First criteria – Objectivity – do the questions offer an objective for the judging immigration official to determine eligibility or not. For example, compare (a) and (b) below

      a. Express how dearly you love your spouse.
      b. show proof you met twice before marriage.

      Second Criteria – Relevance – Are the questions relevant to determining if the couple is really married? For example, a question like, do you both like chocolate ice cream? isn’t really relevant, is it? However, a question like have you met twice previous to your marriage is at least *more* relevant. In the case of most real marriages people have met twice before they were married. (Even here though there might be some glaring exceptions.)

      Now the reason for objectivity is because you don’t want immigration officials deciding whether or not to admit someone based on their subjective whims. Otherwise, some officials will lean left and others right and you’ll have arbitrary justice. It’s inevitable.

      Rest at
      http://japan.shadowofiris.com/immigration/comment-on-moj-immigration-bureau-violates-privacy-of-marriage/

      Debito

    2. debito Says:

      Addendum: I’m getting questions from cyberspace on whether individual cases would need this questionnaire. It’s not for me to answer, sorry. I’m no expert, just a researcher and messinger. Contact the nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate and find out for sure. –Debito

    3. debito Says:

      Addendum 2: Sapporo Immigration called me to say that they have only recently started using this questionnaire. Recent meaning from December 8, 2006! They note that this questionnaire was not used in all Nyuukan offices until recently, but from now it’ll be used nationally as a standard form. –Debito

    4. blert Says:

      As much as people may want to complain about this questionnaire (and I agree that certain questions are intrusive), the officials are correct that most all of this information is fair game for immigration offices in other countries as well. Having gone through the green card process with my wife, at some point or another, we had to answer questions about how we met, when we met, how our relationship developed, when we visited each other’s countries, etc., about our families, about how we communicate with each other, and just about everything else listed here. (I think the apartment size question is uniquely Japanese, but that same question shows up on Japan’s census form, too, so it’s not like foreigners are uniquely being compelled to answer such questions.)

      I thought the green card process was maybe even more awkward in a way because many of these questions were asked to my wife in English (back when her English wasn’t nearly as good as it is now) in an interview, which was a lot more stressful than filling out the information on paper.

      What is more, the U.S. BCIS is much more arbitrary in its decisions and threatening about failing to answer a question than Japan is. If you leave any of these details blank on a form or fail to answer them in an interview, there is a real threat of the green card being rejected.

      I certainly think failing to follow the MOJ rules is a problem. But beyond that, yeah, complain about the questionnaire’s intrusiveness if you want, but these officials are correct that other countries use the same information as standard practice, and to complain about it in Japan without also complaining about it elsewhere seems a little silly….

    5. Todd Says:

      Yeah I went through the US version with my Japanese wife last year and that was about the same as this Japanese one. Whats worse is the US one you need to bring pictures (that will not be returned!) of you two together through the years. Also the US greencard process ended up costing us around $1000 for all the different fees associated with the forms and medical exam required. In contrast I heard the japanese spouse visa costs $40.

    6. Stakhanov Says:

      I would just like to vouch for what a few others have said here. I had to go through the process with my (common-law, so some of these questions may be more legitimate, but it is the same process for a full fledged marriage as well…exact same forms) wife in Canada, for permanent residency. Almost all the exact same questions. However, there were even more for my Canadian application and more intrusive ones. This is certainly not unique to japan, and seems to be the norm for getting spousal visas in most 1st world countries.

      I also see a bit more legitimacy in some of the questions than you do i suppose, as back in my home country faked marriages are common and as intrusive as it is, i think a lot of those questions are necessary. As far as the apartment size etc, in Canada during your interview it is not uncommon to be asked specifically what furniture you have in your home, what colour your walls are, if you both sleep in the same room and if so, what size is your bed…EVERYTHING to determine the legitimacy of the marriage. You are also required to give friend’s and family member’s addresses, contact info, detailed back story to how you met, photographs…etc.

      The only real difference I see is that if you refused to answer the questions, you would be told with a smile “well i guess you don’t get a visa then”.

    7. Evan Thomas Says:

      Hello,

      Very interesting read. Do you think that maybe some of the questions are used a deterrent as well? Anyways, My name is Evan, I am getting ready to marry a Japanese woman in America. We have been together over two years now. Once we are married we plan to move to Japan. I have been searching the internet for information on how I apply for a spouse visa. I have only found a few sites that offer very vague and not very helpful information. Does anyone have some information they are willing to share with me that could send me in the right direction or even explain exactly what I need to do? I would greatly appreciate the assistance! Thank you in advance!
      Evan

    8. Drew Says:

      @Evan: Really I think you would be best off to find the Japanese consulate closest to where you are living and call them. They will have all of the forms there and also know what other documentation you will require.

    9. Nori Says:

      Thanks for posting this! It´s being very helpful.
      I´m applying for my spouse eligibility and the immigration office from Nagoya send me the same questionnaire.
      I´m brazilian(japanese descendent) and my wife is filipina.

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