Visas and Status of Residence

Q. Can I obtain a working visa before establishing a business entity?

A. In principle, working visas cannot be obtained before establishing a business entity since working visas are issued for applicants (foreign nationals) on the premise that a Japan entity for which they work is secured. However, if applying for a "4-month business manager visa" or applying for the Program to increase foreign entrepreneurs introduced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Fukuoka city and Niigata city, it is possible to obtain a visa before establishing a business entity.

Q. How can I go through the immigration clearance to Japan?

A. Any foreign national wishing to enter Japan must have a valid passport, which, in principle, contains a visa corresponding to his/her purpose of entry into Japan obtained in advance from a Japanese embassy, consulate or other Japanese diplomatic mission abroad (hereinafter, "Japanese diplomatic mission abroad"). Upon landing in Japan, the foreign national must then be screened by, and receive a landing permission stamp from, an immigration officer at the port of entry, who will decide on the foreign national's status of residence and period of stay.

Q. What is the difference between a visa and a status of residence?

A. A visa is a recommendation required for entry into Japan received in advance from a Japanese diplomatic mission abroad that certifies that the passport is a valid passport and that there are no impediments to allowing the passport holder to enter Japan within the scope of that visa. Whereas a status of residence is determined when foreign nationals who wish to enter and reside in Japan receive landing permission upon arriving at their port of entry. In other words, the status of residence constitutes the grounds on which a foreign national is permitted to stay in Japan; it is a qualification enabling the foreign national to carry out the activities stipulated in the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and to reside in Japan for the purpose of carrying out those particular activities. The scope of activities in which a foreign national may engage during his/her stay in Japan is determined according to his/her status of residence. Except where a permit to engage in an activity other than that permitted by the status of residence is obtained, the foreign national must not, in principle, engage in any activities generating an income other than those permitted by his/her status of residence.

Q. What kinds of documents do I need to obtain a visa?

A. Please see the documentation that is generally needed when applying for a Certificate of Eligibility for all working statuses.

Q. What are the procedures to obtain a visa?

A. Visas are applied for and received at Japanese diplomatic missions abroad. However, Japanese diplomatic missions abroad may be unfamiliar with circumstances in Japan, leading to delays and other difficulties in screening applications for long-term stay visas such as those for foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan. In light of this, the Immigration Bureau in Japan often screens these applications to determine whether or not the activities intended by the foreign national wishing to enter and reside in Japan correspond to the conditions for the visa being sought; if it is determined that these activities do in fact meet the visa conditions, a Certificate of Eligibility is issued. If this Certificate of Eligibility is presented to a Japanese diplomatic mission abroad together with a visa application, the conditions for entry/residence will ordinarily be deemed satisfied and a visa promptly issued. A Certificate of Eligibility is not applicable to temporary visitor visa.

Please see the flowchart from application for Certificate of Eligibility to visa acquisition and entry into Japan (general example).

Q. What types of Working Statuses are there?

A. The principal statuses of residence related to investment in Japan include Business Manager, Intra-Company Transferee, Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services, Legal/Accounting Services and Skilled labor. Please see the activities authorized in Japan for each status (excerpted from the website of the Japanese Ministry of Justice).

Q. What is the relationship between types of business operation and a status of residence?

A. A foreign company can establish a business presence in Japan in one of four ways. Typically, however, companies do so by establishing a representative office, branch, or subsidiary company. The status of residence is determined by the contents of the applicant's activities in Japan and not by the form of advance into Japan but for the relationship between each of these types of operation and the status of residence of their representatives, the following is generally likely to be applicable:

  • Representative of representative office: "Intra-company Transferee"
  • Representative of branch: "Intra-company Transferee" or "Business Manager"
  • Representative of subsidiary company: "Business Manager"

The status of residence of foreigners (except persons falling under the category of "Business Manager") employed by a representative office, branch or subsidiary company will be "Intra-company Transferee" or other statuses matching each employee's academic/work record and the nature of his/her work in Japan ("Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services," etc.).

Please see the diagram that depicts the sequence of procedures that are typically completed in order to establish and register a new operation in Japan (subsidiary company or branch office) represented by a foreign national, along with the procedures for acquisition of a visa and status of residence.

Q. How can I change my status of residence?

A. A foreigner residing in Japan who wishes to cease the activities in which he/she is currently engaged and to engage exclusively in activities belonging to a status of residence other than that which he/she presently holds must apply and receive permission for a change of status of residence. For example, a foreign national dispatched from a parent company in a foreign country to a subsidiary in Japan and currently residing in Japan on an "Intra-company Transferee" status of residence who wishes to resign from the company to which he is dispatched and to invest in and operate his own company needs to apply and receive permission for a change to "Investor/Business Manager" status of residence.

However, applications for a change in status of residence are not automatically approved, and permission will not be granted if the new activities do not correspond to the requirements and criteria of the status of residence sought. If a foreign national has applied for a change in status of residence (excluding applications made by persons granted a period of stay of not more than 30 days) and no decision has been made on the application by the expiration date of the period of stay granted in respect of the applicant' s status of residence, the applicant may remain in Japan under the same status of residence until the date on which a decision is made on the application or until two months have elapsed from the original expiration date, whichever is the shorter period.

Q. What is a temporary visitor visa?

A. Temporary visitor status covers tourism, recuperation, sports, visits to relatives, field trips, participation in short courses or meetings, business liaison and similar activities undertaken while staying temporarily in Japan. Holders of temporary visitor status may not engage in working activities. Some concrete examples of the type of person involved in business who would be covered by this status are as follows:

  • Persons staying in Japan for the purpose of field trips and study tour (e.g. plant tours and trade fair visits)
  • Persons participating in short courses and briefings organized by companies
  • Persons participating in conferences and other meetings
  • Persons sent to Japan for business liaison, business negotiations, contract signing, after-sales service, advertising or publicity, market research or other short-term business activities

Market research and other activities in preparation for investing in and commencing a business in Japan are normally considered to fall under temporary visitor status. The periods of stay of temporary visitor status are 90 days, 30 days, and designated numbers of days up to 15 days.

Please see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for information on Exemption of visas (short-term stay).