April 19

Getting a Japanese Work Visa: What You Need to Know

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Let's talk about Japanese visas.

Everybody who wants to come to Japan has probably looked at this site by the Immigration Bureau of Japan, which walks you through all the types of visas that Japan offers to foreigners. You'll note right away that the column header on the left says "Status of Residence." This is important to remember, because a Japanese visa and a status of residence are two separate things.

List of Statuses (updated April 2020)

Diplomat

Activities on the part of constituent members of diplomatic missions or consular offices of foreign governments hosted by the Japanese Government; activities on the part of those who are provided with similar privileges and/or immunities as are granted to diplomatic missions pursuant to treaties or international customary practices; and activities on the part of their family members belonging to the same household.

Official

Activities on the part of those who engage in the official business of foreign governments or international organizations recognized by the Japanese Government; and activities on the part of their family members belonging to the same household (except for the activities listed in the "Diplomat" column of this Table).

Professor

Activities for research, guidance of research or education at a university, equivalent educational institutions or colleges of technology ("Kotosenmongakko").

Artist

Activities for the arts that provide income, including music, the fine arts, literature, etc.(except for the activities listed in the "Entertainer" portion of this table).

Religious Activities

Missionary and other religious activities conducted by foreign religious workers dispatched by foreign religious organizations.

Journalist

News coverage and other journalistic activities conducted based on a contract with foreign journalistic organizations.

Highly Skilled Professional

(i) Activities which come under any of the following (a) to (c) to be conducted by foreign nationals who meet the criteria provided for by an ordinance of the Ministry of Justice as human resources who possess advanced and specialized skills, and who are expected to contribute to the academic research and economic development of Japan.(a) Activities of engaging in research, research guidance or education based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan designated by the Minister of Justice, or in conjunction with such activities, activities of personally operating a business which is related to such activities or activities of engaging in research, research guidance or education based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan other than the applicable organization. (b) Activities of engaging in work requiring specialized knowledge or skills in the field of natural sciences or humanities based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan designated by the Minister of Justice, or in conjunction with such activities, activities of personally operating a business which is related to the applicable activities. (c) Activities of operating international trade or some other business of a public or private organization in Japan designated by the Minister of Justice or of managing such business, or in conjunction with such activities, activities of personally operating a business which is related to the applicable activities. (ii) The following activities to be conducted by foreign nationals who engaged in the activities given in (1) and who meet the criteria provided for by an ordinance of the Ministry of Justice as persons whose residence will contribute to the interests of Japan. (a) Activities of engaging in research, research guidance or education based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan.(b) Activities of engaging in work requiring specialized knowledge or skills in the field of natural sciences or humanities based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan.(c) Activities of operating trade or some other business of a public or private organization in Japan, or of managing such business.(d) In conjunction with any of the activities listed in (2) (a) to (c), the activities given in the column for Professor, Artist, Religious Activities, Journalist, Legal/Accounting Services, Medical Services, Instructor, Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/ International Services, Entertainer or Skilled Labor (except for the activities coming under any of (2) (a) to (c)). 

Business Manager

Activities of operating international trade or some other business of a public or private organization in Japan or of managing such business (except for the activities to engage in the operation or management of business which is not allowed without the legal qualifications listed in the "Legal/Accounting Services" column of this Table).

Legal/Accounting Services

Activities to engage in legal or accounting business, which is required to be carried out by registered foreign lawyers "Gaikokuhoujimubengoshi", or certified public accountants "Gaikokukoninkaikeishi" or those with other legal qualifications.

Medical Services

Activities to engage in medical treatment services, which are required to be undertaken by physicians, dentists or those with other legal qualifications.

Researcher

Activities to engage in research based on a contract with a public or private organization in Japan (except for the activities listed in the "Professor" column of this Table).

Instructor

Activities to engage in language instruction and other education at an elementary school, junior high school, compulsory education school, senior high school, secondary educational school ("chutokyoikugakko"), school for special needs education ("tokubetsushiengakko"), vocational school ("senshugakko"), miscellaneous educational institution ("kakushugakko"), or the other educational institutions equivalent to vocational schools in facilities and curriculum.

Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/ International Services

Activities to engage in services, which require skills or knowledge pertinent to physical science, engineering or other natural science fields, or to engage in services, which require knowledge pertinent to jurisprudence, economics, sociology or other human science fields, or to engage in services which require specific ways of thought or sensitivity based on experience with foreign culture, based on a contract with a public or private organization in Japan (except for the activities listed in the "Professor", "Artist", "Journalist", "Business Manager", "Legal/Accounting Services", "Medical Services", "Researcher", "Instructor", "Intra-company Transferee" and "Entertainer" columns of this Table).

Intra-company Transferee

Activities of a staff member transferred to a business office in Japan for a limited period of time from a business office established in a foreign country by a public or private organization which has its head office, branch office or other business office in Japan, which are to be conducted at such business office in Japan and which are listed in the "Engineering/Specialist in Humanities/International Services" column of this Table.

Entertainer

Activities to engage in theatrical performances, dramatic performances, musical performances, sports or any other performing art activities (except for the activities listed in the "Business Manager" column of this Table).

Skilled Labor

Activities to engage in services, which require industrial techniques or skills belonging to special fields based on a contract with public or private organizations in Japan.

Technical Intern Training

(ⅰ) Activities to acquire knowledge through group training courses and activities to acquire skills through employment agreements.  (a) Activities performed by an individual enterprise accepting employees of companies with whom the individual enterprise has business relations such as joint ventures overseas (Individual enterprise-based training). (b) Activities performed under the supervision and responsibility of a non-profit organization such as a trade association (Association managed training). (ⅱ) Activities for a person who has acquired knowledge and skills to engage in business that requires such knowledge and skills through an employment agreement.

Cultural Activities

Academic or artistic activities that provide no income, or activities for the purpose of pursuing specific studies on Japanese culture or arts, or activities for the purpose of learning and acquiring Japanese culture or arts under the guidance of experts (except for the activities listed in the "Student" and "Trainee" portions of this table).

Temporary Visitor

Sightseeing, recreation, sports, visiting relatives, inspection tours, participating in lectures or meetings, business contact or other similar activities during a short period of stay in Japan.

Student

Activities to receive education at a university, college of technology ("kotosenmongakko"), senior high school (including the second half of a course of study at a school for secondary education ("chutokyoikugakko")) or senior high school course of a school for special needs education ("tokubetsushiengakko"), junior high school (including the second half of a course of study at a school for compulsory education (“gimukyoikugakko”) and the first half of a course of study at a school for secondary education) or junior high school course of a school for special needs education, elementary school (including the first half of a course of study at a school for compulsory education) or elementary school course of a school for special needs education, special training school ("senshugakko") or miscellaneous school ("kakushugakko") or equivalent educational institution in terms of facility and organization in Japan.

Trainee

Activities to acquire skills, etc. at a public or a private organization in Japan (except for the activities listed in the "Technical Intern Training (ⅰ) " and "Student" portions of this table).

Dependent

Daily activities on the part of the spouse or unmarried minor supported by the foreign national staying in Japan with the status of residence referred to in the columns from "Professor" to "Cultural Activities" in this Table (except for "Technical Intern Training") or of those who stay with the status of residence of "College" in this table.

Designated Activities

Activities which are specifically designated by the Minister of Justice for foreign individuals.

Permanent Resident

Those who are permitted permanent residence by the Minister of Justice.

Spouse or Child of Japanese National

The spouses of Japanese nationals, the children adopted by Japanese nationals pursuant to the provisions of Article 817-2 of the Civil Code (Law No.89 of 1896) or those born as the children of Japanese nationals.

Spouse or Child of Permanent Resident

The spouses of those who stay with the status of residence of "Permanent Resident" or Special Permanent Resident (hereinafter referred to as "permanent resident etc."), those born as children of a permanent resident etc. in Japan and having been residing in Japan.

Long Term Resident

Those who are authorized to reside in Japan with designation of period of stay by the Minister of Justice in consideration of special circumstances.

A few terms you'll come across when discussing "visas"

VISA: The sticker/stamp in your passport that tells immigration officers the Japanese government has already approved you to land for a specific purpose. Typically valid once or a set number of time. Does not guarantee you entry into the country – for instance if the officer believes you have been dishonest in getting your visa for some reason, they can still deny you at the border.

STATUS OF RESIDENCE: The status outlined on your zairyu card (foreign residence card) that they issue once you land with a valid visa. This status is valid for a certain amount of time (3 months ~ 5 years), and often allows for re-entry into Japan without the need for another visa. People often say "visa" when referring to their status of residence casually.
ie. "I'm here on a student visa right now"

This is your zairyu card, which states your status of residence

How to get your first Japanese visa (non-Working-Holiday)

I see so many people online asking "can I get a working visa and then come to Japan?" The short answer is "yes," but it's not as simple as filling out a visa application form and sending it off to the Japanese government.

Japanese "working visas" often fall under 2 types (though not necessarily). If I had to guess, I would say 90%+ of the working population of foreigners in Japan falls under either the "Instructor" or "Engineer / Specialist in Humanities / International Services" categories. Instructor classification basically means a teacher at an accredited educational institution (think, universities) while the other status is mostly a catch-all for everything else. Again, refer to the above linked page to see if you fall into a rare case like journalist or entertainer. The process outlined here is basically the same though.

For the most part, your company will actually decide which visa class to apply for you, so unless it's your company's first time helping a hire get into Japan, you shouldn't have to worry too much about that. Here are the steps to getting a Japanese visa:

  1. 1
    Job Hunt Process / Interviews with Company
  2. 2
    Receive naitei (内定) with official start date
  3. 3
    Request your company to send you a "Certificate of Eligibility Hearing Sheet" (could take a couple months)
  4. 4
    Fill in sheet and submit to company
  5. 5
    Company submits that, along with company documents to Japanese government
  6. 6
    Government will issue you Certificate of Eligibility directly (takes between 1~3 months)
  7. 7
    You will take that COE to your local Japanese consulate and submit 1) COE 2) Visa application they provide you, and 3) Passport
  8. 8
    Japanese consulate will mail you back your passport after a few weeks with your visa in it
  9. 9
    Travel to Japan, submit passport with visa at immigration at the airport
  10. 10
    Airport immigration will issue you your zairyu card on the spot (this is your status of residence)
  11. 11
    Work and live in Japan!

Filling out your COE Hearing Sheet

This is the final step before you are able to apply for a Japanese visa at your local consulate. When I filled out my certificate of eligibility hearing sheet for my first job in Japan, I wish somebody had explained exactly how to do it so I didn't need to worry. I will walk you through exactly how I filled mine out for a successful COE application.

Some important warnings about your Japanese visa and status of residence

Don't try to fool the government. You might get one past them once or twice, but in the end, they hold all the leverage. If you're found to be illegally working or living in Japan, they will deport you and ban you from re-entry for 5 years. That's bad for you and your income, so don't do it.

What does illegally working entail? A handful of things, some of which shady employers may ask you to do. Be prepared to stand your ground and say "no." The most common illegal ask of potential employees from abroad is to come to Japan as a temporary visitor and start working "while they process your visa for you." There are countless stories of companies willing to take this risk and witless fools accepting it as par-for-the-course. The General Union shares some stories here about how this usually plays out.

Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense.

In other cases, illegally working means you received a Japanese visa and then a status of residence for one type of work, and you end up doing work outside those terms. Examples include instructors doing translation work, students doing tutoring work (without a special permit for part-time work), or researchers getting involved in the night club or hostess trade. Be smart, and be careful. When in doubt, you can phone or visit your local immigration office for clear info.


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