The Japanese visa renewal experience.

I very recently had my three-year anniversary in Japan. It’s always great to hit another milestone but this particular milestone came with a fairly stressful addition. Three years is the length of time commonly given for a working visa so as the end of my third year approached I started getting ready for the renewal process.

My company was really great about giving me the paperwork early and all of their parts were correctly filled out. There were some point in the document that referred to notes on the opposite side that weren’t actually there. I’m unsure if my company printed copies out themselves so didn’t have the notes or if it was actually something done by the immigration office. Either way while the missing notes caused me a bit of concern it wasn’t much of a problem.

You can submit a request to extend your visa up to three months in advance. Due to how far away the office was and several things I wanted to get clarified i submitted mine a bit over two months before. That shouldn’t have been a problem though as the average is only about 4 weeks. The winter vacation was potentially a bit of an issue as the office will have been closed over new year still two months should be plenty of time.

So I submitted my paperwork in person and waited. About a month later during the winter holiday I got a surprise letter saying that they needed me to fill in a different form and provide copies of all my contracts for my current company. As I’d changed jobs during my visa they required more information and documents but neither I nor my company had known about this. I had thought that everything had ben sorted out with the forms I filled in at the time when i changed jobs but now they wanted more.

At this point the company i worked for was closed so I couldn’t ask for any advise so I made the trip to the immigration office with the new form filled out and copies of all my contracts or so I thought. It turns out that in my rush to get things done I had missed a contract for a training period when I first changed job. This usually wouldn’t be much of a problem as it covered a very short period but the man at the office said i should go and get it anyway.

At this point I still wasn’t too worried although I did find it a bit annoying having something like this hanging over my head. So rather than argue that a small employment gap was actually acceptable on a working visa I decided to head home for the day and get it sorted tomorrow. I even said to the man “OK I’ll come back tomorrow then.”

So the next morning I force myself out of my warm bed, drag myself across the city to the immigration office and find to my dismay that everything was closed. The day before had been the last day before the office closed for the holidays and the man I’d spoken to yesterday hadn’t seen the need to say anything. This left me unable to do anything for almost a week. Great way to spend new year.

Anyway the week passes and the office is open again. On the first day I rush down there to arrive the second it opens and manage to submit my new form and photocopies of all my contracts fairly quickly. Happy with myself I thought my problems were over.

Two more weeks pass and I’ve only got two more weeks before my visa expires. So when I open my mailbox one day to find an envelope from the immigration office I’m overjoyed. Until I opened it anyway. It was the same request for contracts and another form which I had just submitted two weeks before.

Another trip across the city to their office. I made it clear I had submitted the form before. I gave the dates and details which were noted down by the girl behind the counter who insisted that she’d find out what had happened. I asked if she could check the progress of my application something she claimed wasn’t possible. I know she was lying because when I went back later other staff were able to quickly and easily check my application.

So I continued to wait. I waited and visited the office every time I had a morning off to check on its progress. Still no visa. The day of my visa expiration comes with no more information or progress.

The day after my visa expired I made yet another trip to their office doing my best not to stand out to the police on my way. Legally speaking even though my visa had expired I was still allowed to stay as my application was still being processed. You get up to two months after the expiration for them to finish processing it. That said I couldn’t be sure that the police would know about things like that. If I got asked for my id and it looked expired I couldn’t be sure that the police officers weren’t going to arrest me as an easy way to fill their arrest quota.I’ve never actually been stopped by the police the entire time I’ve been here but you can guarantee that if there’s one day you are likely to get stopped it’s the day after your visa expires.

So I went to the office again ready to play hell with them about it not being done and demand answers. I know this is just about the worse thing you can do in Japan and is likely to cause even more problems but I was angry. So when I got up to the counter I demanded to know when my visa would be done. The women there just said “chotto matte,” and wandered off.

I was left a bit unsure how to respond to what seemed like sure a casual brush off of my situation but before I could decide she was back with a file in her hands. The file was my completed and approved application. Everything done and no further problems. Apparently the notification post card to tell me to collect it had just been sent out that morning. A quick trip to the Kombini to get the payment stamp and a little while waiting at another window to collect the finished product and I was done.

Finally an end to my two month visa nightmare and a weight off my mind.

I write this post not to complain about my own experience which was most likely an isolated incident. Nor do I want to rant about the ridiculous and wasteful Japanese civil service that still does everything on paper in triplicate with payment stamps rather than going electronic. No neither of these are the reason for my post. I write this post for one reason. To tell everyone who needs to do a visa renewal to do it early. Two months should have been plenty of time but it’s not worth the stress when things go wrong.

You can submit up to three months in advance. I recommend talking to your company and doing all the paperwork before that. Forward date it to exactly one day after the three-month mark. Then be there at 8:30 before they open to make sure you are the first one in. It may sound like a hassle but if you can save yourself the months of having it hanging over your head by getting it in earlier and getting help the second a problem presents itself then you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

To those of you going through this yourself soon. Good luck.