This past January 25, I attended a 5-hour seminar at the American Club in Tokyo. Sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce, representatives from both the Japanese Immigration Office and the American Embassy, along with immigration lawyers and other experts in the field gave presentations and fielded questions from the approximately 100 persons in attendance.
Of particular interest to the foreign community of Tsukuba are the significant improvements in regulations being made this month. Foremost among them is that the length of time re-entry permits will be valid is being increased to match the period of stay on one's visa. Thus, if you have a 3-year visa, you can get a 3-year re-entry permit. You will still have to go in to an immigration office at some point to get the permit, as you will not be able to get one when you receive your visa overseas or when you enter Japan at the airport. Nevertheless, this improvement will mean that you only have to make one trip for that purpose and you can do it anytime you're in the Otemachi (or Hitachi) area. The cost will remain the same, 3000 yen for a single entry permit and 6000 yen for a multiple entry permit.
According to the new regulations, it will also now be possible for one to specify the effective date of the permit so that it doesn't have to be the same as the date of issue. Apparently, this is to allow one to do the application procedure at the same time one is applying for a new authorized period of stay, so that the starting and ending dates will be the same.
The other big change is that the authorized period of stay for a number of visa categories is being increased. Many of the shorter visa periods are being phased out, with many of the 1-year visas being extended to 3 years. For instance, for the categories: professor, artist, religious activities, journalist, investor/business manager, legal/accounting services, spouse or child of a Japanese national, spouse or child of a permanent resident and long term resident 1, the shorter 6-month visa is being dropped and only 1 or 3-year visas will be issued. Likewise, the 6-month or 1-year visa that were available for medical services, researcher, instructor, engineer, specialist in human/international services, intra-company transferee and skilled labor will all change to 1-year or 3-year visas.
Of particular interest to college students is that the 6-month and 1-year visas for college students are being doubled to 1 and 2-year visas. Likewise, the shorter 3-month visa for pre-college student and trainee is being phased out, with only the 6-month and 1-year visas remaining. Also, the 30-day and 3-month visas for entertainer are being increased to 3-month and 6-month visas (in addition to the already existing 1-year visa).
The statement from the immigration bureau stated, "It will be the Immigration Bureau's policy to normally grant the maximum period of stay allowable for a given visa classification."
Of further interest is the statement concerning college and pre-college student visas. In light of fewer visa-related problems in the case of foreign college students and pre-college students, the number of documents that have to be submitted when applying for a Certificate of Eligibility, or submitting an Application for Change of Status or Residence, Or Application for Extension of Period of Stay, have been reduced. And in the case of schools with good reputations, nothing more than the application form will be required.
For those coming on tourist visas, the length of time is still 90 days, but it will now be possible to make an application for extension of the period of stay at an immigration office. This was stated with reference to the US-Japan visa waiver program (which means that US citizen coming to Japan as tourists and visa versa do not need to get a visa), but presumably it applies to other countries as well. (Nevertheless, those from other countries should check first to make sure).
As for changes that aren't so pleasant, at least for those who are staying illegally, is that the penalty for overstaying is going to increase. Previously, if one purposely overstayed one's visa, that would mean that when he or she tried to leave Japan, they would be blacklisted and not allowed to enter Japan again for 1 year. After Feb. 18, that period will increase to 5 years. Likewise, that person can be arrested and held in a detention facility for a week up to several months before actually being deported.
One other point that was brought up in the Q&A time that may be of interest to those married to Japanese nationals and who have children with dual nationality. Again, this was with respect to American and Japanese dual citizenship, but since it particularly involves the Japanese side, it would also apply in many other dual citizenship situations. Japan requires such children to choose one or the other citizenships by the age of 22. The US, however, does not require that, and in fact, will not revoke US citizenship unless a depatriation act is done, which involves actually going through a procedure to get a legal document stating that you are purposely revoking your citizenship. Thus, it is in effect possible to retain both citizenships. All one has to do is to choose the Japanese citizenship at age 22 but do nothing concerning the US citizenship. It will not automatically expire when you declare your choice of Japanese citizenship, and thus you can retain both passports. This might sound slightly illegal, but these were Japanese and American officials explaining the ins and outs of the process.
My overall impressions of the seminar were that the Japanese immigration (in spite of the fact that I have often been frustrated with them) is doing more to improve their service than are the Americans. In fact, it seems that they are in general more forgiving and lenient. We also heard of several horror stories concerning Japanese who had terrible experiences with American immigration officials. One Japanese lady in attendance who had previously worked in the US (legally) went for sight seeing and to visit a friend a couple of years ago. She made the mistake of having on her person her old (expired) US driver's license and bank book, and for some reason she really couldn't understand made the officer suspicious. Nothing she did to try to explain the situation did any good and she was accused of lying and intending on entering the US to live illegally. It ended up with her being strip-searched, handcuffed, put in jail and deported the next day. The officer in charge apparently has been fired and she was apologized to, but her financial loss was not reimbursed. Of the some 2 million plus visits by Japanese on the visa waiver program, only about 200 or so were refused entry, and all of these cases are reviewed. Thus, hopefully, the bad apples are weeded out through this process. Nevertheless, it is important to be up-front and not appear suspicious when going into any country. If you feel you are unfairly treated, then by all means report the incident to the superior in charge of the office.
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