(2004 Update: Most important reason to get it--tough new regulations which will get you imprisoned, fined in the tens of thousands of US dollars, and barred from reentry for years if you overstay even one day! Details below.)

By Arudou Debito
(originally sent to friends Mon, 1 Jul 1996, updated July 2, 2002, May 14, 2004, and April 26, 2006)

A plethora of visas exist in Japan. The most visible are the renewable Culture Visa and Tourist Visa (three months), the 1-year renewable Work Visa, Student Visa, and Educator Visa (all of which require a guarantor), and the Spouse Visa (enabling you to work and stay pretty much as long as you like), all of which involves some roundabouts with Japanese Immigration (Nyuukyoku Kanrikyoku “ü‘ŠÇ—‹Ç) (More on visas and a visa crackdown here:  Japan Times June 28, 2005)

This page will focus on the long-term: the Permanent Resident Status (eijuuken ‰iZŒ ), which is the penultimate step to becoming a full-fledged Japanese citizen (something I actually managed to do).


If you want to get Permanent Residency and are not willing to marry a Japanese, count on a ten-year stay in Japan minimum. If you want the easy way in, you must:

1) be married to a Japanese for at least five years

Why five? It's pretty arbitrary, but five is the benchmark if you are from a first-world country (it will take longer, word has it, if you are from Asia or Africa).

But as far as Immigration goes, being married to a Japanese is advantageous in any case. Case: A resident bachelor friend lived in Japan for donkey's years yet never qualified for Permanent Residency (this was in the bad old days when PR without a J spouse meant a twenty-year wait). He just kept renewing his one-year Work Visa with no extensions. Unfortunately, this meant he was at the mercy of his guarantor, a very nasty boss. Howeover, once he got hitched to a Japanese he got a one-year Spouse Visa and made life much easier. Why? 1) It is very easy to qualify for--your spouse effectively becomes your guarantor, and 2) You have permission to support your family at any job, even be unemployed without worrying about visa status. My friend soon quit the company and started a liberated job search.

Now the next stage. After two or three one-year Spouse Visa renewals later (if you are from a country with whom Japan is pleasantly disposed), Immigration may allow you to extend to a three-year Spouse Visa. Then, when the first three-year Spouse Visa comes close to expiring (meaning you have been here married those prerequisite five years total), one can apply for Permanent Residency.

The PR process is not a finger-snap, as Immigration will comb through your records. It took a friend of mine four months to get the upgrade, because (they said) he hadn't been married long enough. However, in my case--a seven-year veteran of a Japanese wife plus five years constant residence--I got mine in 1996 in record time--after only three weeks (for an amusing anecdote on maybe why, click here).


2) Show that you have a steady job

3) Show them your annual earnings form (gen sen chou shuu sho Œ¹ò’¥Žû‘)--to show your financial stability.

4) Fill out some forms (of course)

5) Show them a family register form (koseki touhon ŒËÐ“£–{) and gaijin equivalent (gaikokujin tourokuzumi shoumeisho ŠO‘l“o˜^ÏØ–¾‘) to prove connection to spouse and dependents.

6) Pay 8000 yen in tax stamps (shuunyuu inshi Žû“üˆóŽ†)

7) Wait

As I said, the waiting can last a few months, so bear with it. If turned down, you just fall back on your Spouse Visa. No worries.


Not as far as I know. The advantages far outweigh them in any case:

1) You do not have to go through the periodical rigamarole of visa renewal at Immigration.

2) You can now easily receive credit, in the form of credit cards, house and other large loans from private banks and government financial institutions. Most banks simply consider foreigners of any other status a credit risk, and the Japanese courts have backed this up (cf Herman Case, 2001)

3) You can now divorce (heaven forbid) without losing your visa, getting kicked out of the country, and never seeing your kids again (this has happened to many visa-statused divorcees, trust me).

4) In some municipalities, you may get the right to vote in local elections.

5) You engender more respect from your Japanese peers as a Permanent Resident (try it and see for yourself). You can truly say you live here like anyone else, permanently.

6) You will still have to pay the "gaijin tax" when buying a Re-entry Permit (sai nyuukoku kyoka Ä“ü‘‹–‰Â), but the duration of the permit is longer.

7) It's the closest thing to becoming a citizen without having to go through the soul searching necessary to give up your former nationality (since Japan does not allow dual citizenship).

8) And (2004 update), with the government's recent crackdown on visa overstayers (due to misallegations of a foreign crime wave), you can be detained under prison conditions, fined tens of thousands of US dollars, and barred from entry for years for overstaying a visa even one day! Page down to 2004 San Francisco Chronicle article substantiating this. Why mess with visas anymore, if there is a chance you will be kicked out of Japan just for messing up a bureaucratic procedure?

That's why I recommend you get it. It saves you a lot of legwork and effectively increases your status both legally and interpersonally in Japan.

One more thing:  If you have PR, you cannot lose it unless you leave the country and do not return within the time period on your Re-Entry Permit (see number 6 above).  So get your Sainyuukoku Kyoka for as long as possible (around three years) if you're going overseas for a stretch.

The bottom line is that the breaks for Permanent Residence are marriage to a national and duration of time here. It's not that difficult to get, and the Immigration people, up here in Sapporo at least, were very cooperative about telling you the ins and outs.

Again, if you are eligible, I say go for it.

Arudou Debito

Japan gets tough on visa violators
1-day overstay can bring time in cell, 5-year banishment
Catherine Makino, Chronicle Foreign Service
Monday, May 10, 2004
2004 San Francisco Chronicle


Tokyo -- When Bay Area students Angela Luna and Richard Nishizawa tried to
board a plane bound for San Francisco in March, airport authorities threw
them in a small holding cell and held them incommunicado for several days
before banishing them from Japan for five years.

Luna and Nishizawa, who had studied Japanese for a year at Reitaku
University about 20 miles northeast of Tokyo, were not arrested for
committing a serious crime. They had merely stayed in the country two weeks
longer than their visas permitted.

"We had valid 5-year visas, so we didn't bother to look at our immigration
stamps," Luna, 27, said by telephone from her home in Lafayette. "The guards
made me change my clothes because they had drawstrings. They thought I might
use it has a weapon, or strangle someone. We were treated like criminals."

Nishizawa, 31, who lives in Martinez, says he was handcuffed, strip-
searched, placed in a 20-by-20-foot cell with four other foreigners and
given a mat to sleep on.

Christopher Mockford, a student from Ellensburg, Wash., was handcuffed and
detained for three days after finishing a yearlong scholarship program at
Shimane University in western Japan. He, too, was banished from Japan for
five years, for staying one day longer than his visa allowed.

"My major is Japanese, and now I will have to probably change it," Mockford

Luna, Nishizawa and Mockford were victims of an intense crackdown in the
past year that punishes foreigners who stay in Japan longer than they are
legally allowed. The campaign has been harshly criticized by human rights
groups, who say politicians and the government are cynically blaming
foreigners for Japan's depressed economy and rising crime rate -- even if
innocent tourists and students get caught up in the dragnet.

"There is racial profiling going on, and no one is questioning it," said
Makoto Teranaka, secretary general of Amnesty International in Japan. "The
police are using foreigners as scapegoats for an increase in crime."

Known locally as "overstayers," foreigners are subject to being jailed for
three to four days, fined up to $3,000 and banned from Japan for five years
for staying a single day longer than their visa permits. Some are even
charged $600 for each day in detention and denied the right to call their
family or embassy unless they appeal their cases, a three- to five-week
process that few overstayers opt for.

The Justice Ministry argues that the crackdown is warranted because some
220,000 foreigners violated their visas last year -- mostly Koreans,
Filipinos and Chinese who want to hang on to jobs that pay higher wages than
jobs in their own countries. An additional 30,000 foreigners were smuggled
illegally into Japan, mainly from China.

Tatsuro Kitazono, an immigration officer in Tokyo, says the crackdown is
linked to a 17 percent jump in crime by foreigners in the past year. In
2003, police say foreigners committed 40,615 criminal acts -- mostly theft,
fraud and forgery, but also the high-profile murders of a family of four in
Fukuoka by three Chinese students.

Earl Kinmoth, a professor of sociology at Tokyo's Taisho University who has
lived in Japan for some 30 years, also sees a historical tie to the campaign
against overstayers.

"The crackdown is probably a combination of things: an increase in crime by
Chinese, 9/11, unthinking officials and fear of foreigners," he said. "And
certainly there is xenophobia here, based on history."

Japan was closed to the world for 250 years until U.S. Navy Commodore
Matthew Perry forced the shogunate to open Japan's borders in 1854. The
nation remains homogeneous, with only 0.2 percent of its population
foreign-born. Sociologists say many Japanese remain deeply distrustful of
gaijin, as foreigners are known -- a sentiment that has increased in recent
years because of a decade-long economic recession and rising unemployment.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, a nationalist who is one of Japan's most
popular politicians, has promised additional manpower to help immigration
agents root out visa violators in Tokyo and surrounding areas. In 2000,
Ishihara told members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces that foreigners had
committed "atrocious crimes" in the past and "could be expected to riot in
the event of a disastrous earthquake."

The Immigration Bureau has also jumped on the nationalist bandwagon by
creating a Web site (www.immi-moj.go.jp/zyouhou/index.html) in February that
Amnesty International has described as "cyber xenophobia." The site asks
Japanese to turn in suspicious foreigners who are "taking your jobs" and
received more than 780 tips in the first month, according to bureau
spokesman Mamoru Fukudaki.

Michael Boyle, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, says he does not
know how many Americans have been detained in recent months because most
detainees choose to leave Japan after paying fines and accepting the
five-year banishment.

"The anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been an uptick in the
number of Americans detained," Boyle said. "Our opinion is that when
traveling abroad, Americans are subject to the laws of the country they are

An aging population and a low birth rate -- Japan's population is expected
to drop from 125 million in 2004 to 100 million by 2056, in a projection by
the National Institute of Population and Social Security -- have caused the
government to grudgingly open its doors to foreign workers, who often take
jobs shunned by most Japanese as falling within the "3Ds" -- dirty,
dangerous and difficult. Such jobs, including work at construction sites and
in restaurant kitchens, typically offer low wages and few or no benefits.

Tony Lazlo, director of Issho Kikaku ("Together Project"), a nonprofit
organization formed by Tokyo-based foreigners to support multicultural
issues, says foreigners previously avoided punishment for expired visas by
writing a letter of apology. Kinmoth says immigration officials used to
"bend over backward to handle it."

A special commission has been set up to review the nation's immigration

Gregory Clark, a former Australian diplomat and the only foreigner on the
panel, says his colleagues are "impervious to bad publicity" and are
unlikely to ease up on overstayers. The Justice Ministry, which launched a
special 200- member unit to find illegal residents last month, may increase
the maximum fine from $3,000 to $30,000 and increase the banishment from
five to 10 years.

In the Bay Area, Luna and Nishizawa say they plan on returning to Japan
after their five-year banishment ends. But both are still fuming about being
caught up in Japanese politics.

"I am upset about the way it was handled, especially since a lot of it is
political and not a glitch in the bureaucratic system," said Luna. "The
punishment certainly didn't fit the crime."

Copyright 2004 San Francisco Chronicle

Diet to toughen illegal stay penalties, scrap refugee deadline

The Diet is set to enact into law Thursday afternoon a bill to toughen penalties on illegal aliens in Japan and eliminate the 60-day deadline for foreigners to apply for refugee status after entry, lawmakers said.

The amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law, likely to be enacted after passing the House of Representatives at a plenary session in the afternoon, raises the maximum fine for illegal aliens to 3 million yen from the current 300,000 yen.

It also extends a ban on reentry of foreigners deported from Japan to 10 years from five years.

Measures involving foreign nationals who overstay their visas will take effect six months after promulgation of the law while those related to the refugee recognition would be within one year.

The bill says illegal immigrants who turn themselves in to immigration authorities will be exempt from detention and deported swiftly.

It also introduces a new system which allows the authorities to rescind the resident status given to foreign nationals who obtained landing permits through illegal means after they undergo questioning by authorities and other procedures.

As for refugee-related provisions, the revised law eliminates a rule limiting the period during which foreign nationals may apply for refugee status to 60 days after their arrival in Japan.

The law also introduces independent counselors into the screening process of petitions by refugees against the government's rejection of their status in an effort to improve impartiality.

Foreigners recognized as refugees will be allowed to reside in Japan if they fulfill certain conditions, according to the bill.

For those applying for refugee status, the justice minister, who holds the authority to grant or reject a refugee application, will issue permission for temporary residence as a way to secure their legal status, and give priority to the refugee recognition procedures over deportation, it states.

Critics have long denounced Japan's dismal record of granting refugee status to applicants.

In the 21 years between 1982 and 2003, Japan received 3,118 applications for refugee status. It granted only 315.

Last year, 336 people filed to become refugees. Only 10 were recognized.

With an estimated 250,000 illegal immigrants in Japan, the Justice Ministry hopes to halve that number in five years in the wake of what law enforcement authorities claim is a rise in the number of crimes involving foreigners in Japan.

The bill was submitted to a regular Diet session last year, but was shelved when the lower house was dissolved in October. It was resubmitted to the Diet in the current legislative session that ends in June.

The House of Councillors passed the bill April 16 and forwarded it to the lower house.

2004 Kyodo News (c)
All Rights Reserved



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