People often say what a great source of information the internet is and how it makes traveling in the modern world much easier—yet when it comes to immigration and Japan, a large percentage of what’s stated as factual is incorrect.
There are few steadfast rules when it comes to immigration, and it seems even the people working at immigration offices are not entirely sure what’s going on.
On “information” lines, I’ve received an authoritative “You can’t do that!” about things I went on to do—and that’s from the most helpful of people. Others simply say, “I don’t know.” If an information service doesn’t have the answers, where else do you turn? Oh yeah, the internet—land of Japan experts.
You have to give seasoned online expats some respect, I suppose: They’ve devoted themselves to something, and yet that thing—the title of “top message-board advice poster”—might make the validity of the advice questionable.
In a state of panic, I’ve asked people to call in Japanese and speak to immigration staff in their native tongue, yet have had similar experiences and frustrations.
There are a number of gray areas or “rules” I’ve broken in my multiple visa applications, and applying for a visa four years in a row is just the beginning. Another is changing from a working holiday visa to a work visa. Almost everyone I spoke to, including the “advisor,” told me I had to leave Japan to do this—I didn’t; I had to get the “certificate of eligibility,” which can be obtained inside Japan. The idea of abstract paperwork with the power to drastically alter your situation is an absurdity of modern life. Dealing with immigration feels like being in the worst part of a Legend of Zelda game, where you have to play the flute next to the tree to open the door. It makes logical sense only within that world.
Another visa-related myth is “sponsorship,” and the idea that you need to be sponsored by a company. This is all outdated terminology: For all practical purposes, you don’t need a sponsor. The language makes it sound as if you and your company have a master-slave relationship. In reality, you just have to prove you have a job or give details of your work. The company isn’t sponsoring you for anything; you are proving you have a job and thus a reason to be in Japan. I know other countries such as Taiwan require you to stay with the same company for the visa to remain valid, but this isn’t true of Japan. I’ve read articles discussing “self-sponsorship”—yet this term really means “applying with proof you have multiple jobs.” It’s simpler than the vague term suggests.
The other “rule” that’s commonly misunderstood is needing a full-time job to be “sponsored.” I’ve applied and received visas twice while holding part-time jobs. I’ve also heard people saying the reason part-time work is unacceptable is the salary, although I got a visa with a job that paid as little as ¥150,000.
There’s a very uncomfortable vibe in an immigration office: Something between a doctor’s waiting room and an airport, yet without the sympathy or excitement. Fantasy potentialities are compounded by hours spent reading fearmongering advice. There are enough things to worry about in life without making people fret that the foundation of the life they’ve built is under threat because of a few pieces of easy-to-obtain paper.
There’s an air of elitism with some commentators perversely wanting to see people forced to leave Japan rather than stay and continue their lives. If there are fewer people in Japan, the “elite” minority of Japan experts has a stronger sense of individualism. I’ve noticed one of the strange things about expat culture is many expats are afraid to look in the mirror. Seeing other people with similar lifestyles is often evaded or dealt with through negativity.
When it comes to visa renewal, I still recommend using common sense. Acting like an immigration cowboy will do little for the success of your application. In my experience, as long as you have a steady job and pay your taxes, you’ll be fine. It’s easier than you think to renew your visa—though it’s still about as much fun as going to the dentist for a filling.