Living in Tokyo is great. With a mix of modern, fast-paced life and traditional Japanese culture, Japan is a popular city to make a new home. However, living in Japan has a dreaded caveat that every foreigner must experience: visiting the immigration office—notorious for its bureaucratic processes and long queues.
Unless you’re blessed with being able to visit the alternative immigration office in Tachikawa, you will likely have to visit the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa multiple times during your stay in Tokyo to renew your visa or change your status. However, with some preparation and insider tips, you can make your visits to the immigration office smoother and, at the very least, more tolerable.
- Why The Bad Reputation?
- Time Your Visit Right
- Prepare Everything Early
- Make a Reservation
- Ask Someone Who Knows
While some criticisms could be exaggerated, there are legitimate reasons to loathe the Tokyo Immigration Office.
Despite Japan being a G20 nation with nearly 600,000 foreign nationals living in Tokyo alone, it ranks 87th (out of 100) on the world English Proficiency Index—lower than China, South Korea, and Vietnam. This is painfully reflected at the immigration office, arguably the most crucial place in the city where English services are needed for navigating documentation, complying with immigration laws and ensuring a seamless experience for non-Japanese speakers.
Location and Accessibility
While Shinagawa is a major transportation hub, the immigration office is far from the station. The long walk or bus ride can be inconvenient, especially for those with mobility issues.
Visitors often find the extended wait times, two to five hours, frustrating. This delay in a seemingly straightforward process of handing over a document and receiving a new one is likely due to the large number of people seeking immigration services, language barriers and limited staff to manage the workload.
Japanese immigration bureaucracy’s meticulous document verification and coordination between agencies, such as the immigration office and local municipal government, often result in delays; strict compliance requirements and the intricacies of navigating diverse visa categories compound challenges, particularly for non-Japanese speakers dealing with limited English language support.
The Detention Center is Hell
While the first two floors resemble a typical bureaucratic and gloomy office setting, the upper floors house individuals detained for overstaying visas, with some seeking refugee status or reluctant to return home. Disturbingly, stories of extended detention periods, mental abuse, hunger strikes, and, tragically, instances of death, such as at the Nagoya Regional Immigration office, add to the gravity of the situation.
The Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau operates from 9 am to 4 pm, with individuals often queuing for the bus at Shinagawa station well before the doors open. Generally, arriving early is advisable to avoid prolonged waiting times. However, reaching the office about 30 minutes before closing, near the application cut-off time, might occasionally allow for a quicker application process as the lines taper toward the end of the day.
Depending on when you choose to renew your visa, you might make things worse or better for yourself. Some months are busier than others. March, April, September and October are busy because universities and schools are processing new and current students renewing their status.
The weeks leading up to holidays like Golden Week, Obon, and New Year can be unpredictable. Whether you’ll find yourself caught in the rush, with everyone trying to submit documents or encounter an understaffed office, it’s a gamble. On the other hand, luck might be on your side, and you could be one of the few foreigners not on an extended vacation during these periods.
- Early Arrival: Line up at the bus before 9 am.
- Strategic Timing: Try to come before the new application cut-off time.
- Student Rush: March, April, September, and October are busy due to students.
- Holiday Caution: Holidays like Golden Week, Obon, and New Year can be busy or dead.
Streamline your visit to the immigration office by preparing everything beforehand. You do not want to wait in line only to realize you’re missing a crucial document or signature or, worse, risk the ire of the clerk by attempting to fill out your application at the counter.
- Application Forms: Download all the necessary forms from the official Immigration Bureau website and print them at your company office or use a printer at a konbini. Complete them accurately beforehand.
- Specific Visa Requirements: Familiarize yourself with the unique requirements for your visa category to ensure you have all the necessary documents ready. Double-check the requirements from both your city office and your employer.
- Additional Materials: Depending on your visa type, you may need additional materials such as a letter of employment, school enrollment verification, or financial statements. Don’t forget to buy a revenue stamp – seriously, double-check.
- Translations: If any documents require translation, ensure it’s done beforehand. Exercise caution if using limited leave for this process.
- Photos: Avoid getting your passport photo at the immigration office; it’s not only pricier, but there are usually lines, and, let’s be honest, you might feel a bit awkward with curious stares. Photo booths for IDs are readily available all over Japan, likely even at your local station. While there are usually scissors for photos at the office, why wait?
- Bring a Book: The wait times are real. Many companies even give employees the day off because they know they will be there most of the day. Bring a book, your Switch, and some earbuds.
Many foreigners in Tokyo are unaware that the Tokyo Immigration Office permits reservations for certain visa procedures, including collecting your new visa after receiving the postcard. To secure a slot, visit either the English or Chinese website.
On the day of your reservation, head to the “Application Reservation Lane” at the B counter on the second floor.
Procedures available for reservations:
- Application for permission to change your status of residence.
- Application form for extension of period of stay.
- Application for permission to obtain your status of residence.
- Application for permanent residence permit.
- Application for permission for activities outside of qualifications.
- Application for issuance of employment qualification certificate.
Procedures that cannot be booked:
- Application for Certificate of Eligibility.
- Application for renewal of residence card validity period.
- Application for reissuance of residence card due to loss, etc.
- Application for re-entry permit.
- Cancellation of residence status.
- Seal transcription.
- Use of consultation desk only, etc.
- Use of consultation desk only, etc.
Amid the rush of completing tasks, visitors often overlook the valuable assistance provided by resources tailored for foreigners in Japan. These resources can offer guidance to ensure accurate form completion. Immigration consultancy services are available to provide advice on required documentation and procedural guidance and even accompany you to the office, streamlining the entire process.
Consider the Tokyo Employment Service Center for Foreigners (TESCF), Shinjuku Foreigners’ Employment Assistance and Guidance Center, and Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs for government assistance.
The immigration office also provides a free consultation/help booth, where staff can inform you about the necessary materials, offer clarification, guide you through the process or direct you to the appropriate channels for assistance.
What do you think about the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau? Are the criticisms valid, or is it all hyperbole? Let us know in the comments.
This article was written in collaboration with Matthew Coslett.