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Japanese Immigration Has Begun Enforcing Stricter Visa Requirements for Foreigners

Tourist, working holiday and student visa holders are among those affected.

By 7 min read

You probably didn’t realize that tourist and working holiday visa-holders from certain countries aren’t technically allowed to change to other visa types after their initial visa has expired. Up until now, the Japanese Immigration Bureau was pretty lax in enforcing this rule, but that may be changing.

Though seemingly strict on the surface, Japanese immigration has been fairly lenient in the past about giving people the benefit of the doubt and making exceptions for individual cases to the point where these exceptions have become the norm and widely spread online as normal procedures.

There are three laws we’ve seen being more strictly enforced:

1. You can not change from a tourist visa to a working or student visa while in Japan

2. Most countries can not change from a working holiday to another type of visa

3. Adult students who wish to study in Japan have higher requirements

The Immigration “Bureau” was recently upgraded to the status of “Agency”

In April 2019, the Immigration Bureau made several changes including being upgraded from a “bureau” to an “agency.” The new immigration services agency is no mere name change, it actually gives the agency a lot more power than before.

Representatives stated the main motivation for the change was to deal with the influx of new immigrants—many of them coming on the new specified-skilled work visas—although more resources and power were given to the agency covering all the visa types.

The new immigration services agency is no mere name change, it actually gives the agency a lot more power than before.

Up until recently, the Ministry of Justice was more or less in charge of the Immigration Bureau. Reading immigration laws made this apparent, with the MoJ being constantly referenced along with how exceptions could be made when the MoJ decided there was a good reason to.

Essentially, the Immigration Bureau was under control of the ministry, which probably has a lot of important things to deal with and was still operating under old systems designed when immigration to Japan was much lower.

We cannot know exactly how things were run at the Immigration Bureau, but it’s clear that what was stated in the rules and what was done in practice was often quite different—usually to the benefit of the immigrant.

[…] it’s clear that what was stated in the rules and what was done in practice was often quite different—usually to the benefit of the immigrant.

This upgrade to the agency now gives them a lot more power, as most of the legal authority now rests directly with the head of immigration.

While immigration was relatively powerless to make any changes or important decisions on their own, it now has the same level of power as something like the National Police Agency or Public Security Intelligence Agency.

The Immigration Agency is getting stricter about rules

Ever since this occurred, we have seen some changes in the way that immigration is administering “exceptions.” Several companies and schools that we work with through our GaijinPot Jobs service and GaijinPot Study program reported running into issues with immigration.

The agency seems to be much more interested in following the official rules and not deviating from them. It is unknown if this is how things are going to be from now, or they have a new team that wants to follow everything exactly and will loosen up as time goes by.

Either way, you should assume that everything will now be to the letter of the law.

The three main laws that we have seen being more strictly enforced are:

1. You can not change from a tourist visa to a working or student visa while in Japan

Many people come to Japan while their visa is being processed, entering the country on a tourist visa to look for work or to take a short-term study course while converting to a full student visa. Up until now, it was possible to apply for a change of status with the new Certificate of Eligibility and change to a long-term visa without leaving the country.

We’ve recently seen these requests being rejected. Applicants must return to their home country to get the visa processing done at the closest consulate to where they live. We have seen this change impact working, student, and dependent visas so far.

2. Most countries can not change from a working holiday to another type of visa

The goal of the working holiday program is for people to enjoy a holiday in Japan while working part-time to support themselves—not as an easy entry into the country while searching for other work.

Working holiday treaties are drawn individually between Japan and other countries. While the rules vary from country to country, many have a clause that stipulates you must return home after the visa duration is complete. With a working holiday visa, you may not change your visa status while still in the country. You are supposed to go back home and get the visa at the consulate, the same as those on tourist visas.

The following countries do not (technically) allow you to change from a working holiday visa while still in Japan:

  • UK
  • Ireland
  • France
  • Hong Kong
  • Taiwan
  • Norway
  • Chile
  • Hungary
  • Sweden
  • Spain
  • Poland

Countries not on this list should still be able to change from a working holiday visa to another type while staying in the country.

With a working holiday visa, you may not change your visa status while still in the country.

3. Adult students who wish to study in Japan have higher requirements

If you’re over the age of 30 and want to come to Japan to study at a Japanese language school, you may be expected to show three year’s worth of bank transaction history. You also may be asked to show proof of studying Japanese in the past.

Proof of study can be either a certificate for passing the JLPT, or a document showing at least 150 hours of formal coursework.

It may seem counter-intuitive to require potential students to have proof of Japanese study before coming to Japan to study. From our interpretation, the agency seems to find it suspicious if people just decide to drop everything and move to Japan to study Japanese out of nowhere. They may suspect that you’re getting a student visa with ulterior motives to actually work in Japan rather than just study.

Showing a history of studying the language should, in theory, suggest that you want to take your Japanese to the next level by studying in the country.

We at GaijinPot Study have been particularly affected by this in recent months. However, after many of the schools we work with complained, the agency seems to have backed down.

Partner language schools that we work with told us they received information from immigration after April that the extra documents are not necessary and that they would continue allowing older students to apply as before.

However, after many of the schools we work with complained, the agency seems to have backed down.

It is too early to say if immigration will reverse the decision entirely, or if they are only giving us a grace period and will require proof of study in the future.

To be safe, if you are over 30-years-old and wish to study at a language school in Japan, it might be a good idea to sign up for some formal Japanese classes where you live. Since this may not be an option for everyone, it’s possible that alternatives will be accepted, such as online classes or some sort of proof of self-study. Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to be sure at this point.

If you sign up through GaijinPot Study’s student placement program, we’ll do our best to help guide you through the process and take the right steps to fulfill any necessary requirements.

We’re still collecting data and will update this article if there are any changes.

Let us know if you have been affected by these stricter requirements in the comments below.

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