Let’s talk for a minute about the Japanese visa process and then I’ll explain how it led to my children and I ending up in South Korea for 24 hours this week…
Now, this doesn’t apply to visitor visas that are fairly simple to obtain. If you are lucky enough to carry the American gold card- er, passport- then you can simply show up in immigration and get a stamp just like most other places in the world. This applies to work visas, student visas, dependent visas, residency visas…any visa that means you will be staying in Japan longer than 90 days. For the purpose of this discussion (and because I’m the most familiar with the process) we’ll stick with the process for work and dependent visas.
Alright. Here’s how the process of getting a work visa would GENERALLY go:
A company wants to hire a foreign employee. That company petitions the government for permission to sponsor the prospective foreign employee (prospect). The government approves the sponsorship. The company extends an invitation to the prospect. The prospect accepts the invitation and with the help of the sponsor applies for the visa. The government approves the visa and requests the prospect’s passport. The passport is sent to the government, stamped and returned to the prospect who then enters the country to work.
This description does, of course, oversimplify the process but the gist is there: sponsor, invite, apply, enter.
We did things differently (by necessity). We entered the country on a visitor visa for 90 days and began the process of changing our status from visitor to worker/dependent. DON’T DO THIS. It’s extremely difficult to change your visa status in Japan and takes a lot of time/effort/hassle to change. You may enter Japan thinking you just want to visit, fall in love (like we have) and want to stay but I’ll tell you now your best bet is to go home, take your time and do it right. If we didn’t have the support of a corporate lawyer and an immigration advocate I don’t think I’d be sitting in Tokyo right now.
The ‘Gathering’ (of paperwork, that is) has taken weeks. Applications and addendums, appendices, affirmations and acknowledgements. A letter stating WHY my husband wanted a work visa (um…to work?). An original college diploma and transcript…the list goes on. Finally, we were set to APPLY for the work visa but our visitor visa clocks were to run out in 2 weeks. One week passed and my husband’s application was accepted. Not approved, ‘accepted’. This meant that he was eligible for a ‘consideration stamp’ on his visitor visa which extends the time he can stay throughout the duration of the work visa process. At that point he was asked to stay in the country. He’s not to leave until his application has been considered lest the clock restart and he’ll have to reapply.
This is where it gets tricky (and even our advocate was caught aware). A little under one week before our visitor visa ran out we submitted my and the kids’ dependent visa applications. On the advice of previous contacts in immigration our visa applications could not be accepted until my husband got his consideration stamp. Time passed and we waited, one day turned into three and then Tuesday before our visa expired on Thursday our advocate called…there was a problem. Immigration won’t accept our applications because my husband’s application for work visa has not yet been approved. The immigration office wants to ‘talk to us’. The next morning we dropped the kids in an extra day of daycare, piled into a cab and hauled off to immigration arriving before the windows opened. Several (very polite) encounters later and MANY shaking heads, nope, no extension.
Our visas were set to expire the next day. We were advised it was ‘in our best interest’ to leave BEFORE our visa expired lest we not be allowed to come back for being in the country illegally (even by one day). Three hours later I was on a flight to South Korea with my twin 2 year olds not knowing when I’d see my husband again (we had previously been informed that once the application for longer visa status was initiated, the government would be unlikely to allow us to re-enter with a visitor status).
24 hours of puking kids (of course they caught a virus JUST as we left) and puking mama (of COURSE I had to catch the virus), airplanes, vans, room service, and airport play areas we made it back, cleared immigration in record time and hopped a train home. A weight has been lifted and we’ve bought ourselves another 3 months as visitors.
My husband’s visa should clear within 3-4 weeks and then we’ll start the dependent visa process again (hopefully with a smoother outcome).
I do believe that while our situation appears unique right now that there will be more and more of these kinds of arrangements as more and more Americans are traveling for work and more and more spouses are making the decision to trail their working partner. Families are meant to be together but traveling families will meet obstacles; the rules aren’t made for you, and you’ll have to be flexible in managing to adhere to those rules. This has been a HUGE learning experience…a learning experience I really have no interest taking part in EVER again.