My first application for a visa extension in Japan was three years ago. And in comparison to applying for a student visa, or graduating from college and applying to a company, there is no monumental event that marks when you need to renew your work visa. You just kind of have to remember. So like any responsible member of society I completely forgot until the last minute, and looked on the immigration page which basically only had the application form, a portrait photo and your passport. Thinking that “that sounds too easy”, I grabbed the listed documents and got up early the next day to go to the immigration office in Shinagawa.
When I showed up to the Shinagawa Immigration office I got in line, nervously noticing how everyone seemed to have a lot more documents and be a lot more prepared than I was. I got to the window and proudly showed the four documents that I had read on the web site. The attendant at the counter gave me a look like I was brain damaged and told me to go wait at the consultation window. At the consultation window I ended up waiting for almost four hours as different applications from different businesses were called into to get interviewed. I thought “this is weird, I might as well go home and research on the internet more”. And as I was about to give up and go home I was called to the window.
I went to the window and explained that I wanted to apply for an extension of time on my work visa. He gave me a quick look like, “that’s it?”. I guess their consultation generally gets a lot more difficult questions than that. But he quickly pulls out some paper that he had printed out several copies to have on hand and gave me one of them. And then at the bottom he proceeded to add more documents that I needed by hand. And the consultation ended in a few minutes I was now armed with the actual list of documents that I needed. Confused I asked him, “where is this listed on the immigration web site, and how do I find it?”. He gave me a shy look like, “I’m not supposed to tell you that”, and I left with a checklist of what I needed and was able to get my application ready inside a week.
I should have taken better notes. Once you submit your forms to the immigration office they don’t come back. So three years have passed and I need to renew my visa by this March, and I’m back on square one. Back with the information available on the internet. Which is seriously lacking. I mean if you just search the generic “word visa extension”, you end up on this page that shows the following information.
Which might look like there’s a lot written there. But it’s mostly just the application form, your picture, that you need to submit your application up to three months before the limit of your application. And that you need to check what you need to submit depending on your status. Okay, so my status is 「技術・人文知識・国際業務」. So what are the documents that I need to submit for that?
You get this horribly illegible page. At the top you have some kind of non-sense about categories. I still don’t understand this, though then again maybe I am brain damaged. Category 1 seems to be if you’re in some kind of large company or government office, otherwise you’re probably not in category 1. The documents listed are the application form, a picture, your passport and foreign registration card, a copy of your last year’s salary, and proof of tax payment. That sounds reasonable, but that’s still a lost less documentation that what I was required to submit three years ago. So I searched around the internet for all of the offices that do the applications for you to see if there were any hints of anything else I could possibly need.
I mean I don’t want to have to go to the immigration office so they can tell me what I need and then have to go back again. All of the information I need should be available on the internet. To test this I wanted to gather everything I could possibly need and then be able to apply. I mean this shouldn’t be like playing “Go-Fish”, there should be a specific checklist of what I need to extend my visa. If you live in a society of rules, you should be able to view and understand those rules, otherwise that’s just kind of terrifying. After researching on the internet I came up with this list of documents that might be overkill, but probably need to be safe:
- 4cm x 3cm 写真
- 外国人登録証 （コピー)
And I prepared all of these documents, and I added a cover letter which contained my name, status, all of the documents contained within my application, and then my address and phone number in case they needed to contact me. And since I need to apply with my wife, I also added our wedding certificate in as well.
Now what was interesting is they accepted my application on the first try. Which was a huge relief of not having to go back and play “whack-a-mole” with tracking down documents. But what was interesting, is the attendant at the counter flat out said, “I don’t need this”, and handed back our marriage certificate for my wife’s application. But then for my application, I didn’t get handed back any of the documents I had submitted. So I’m not exactly even sure what’s that is supposed to mean. Does that mean all of that ended up being required? Or does it mean that the documents were not required, but they might as well accept them with the application anyways? But the most interesting part was they took my cover letter and checklist with the list of documents for the application.
If anything comes out of this, hopefully the immigration office took notes from my cover letter and should hopefully do a better job of making sure that people have a better idea of what documents they need before they come into the office. So that people aren’t having to come multiple times to figure out what they need before they come again to actually apply. If anything I would love to see Japan takes some notes on lazy Americans handle government forms, and include some PDF’s with input forms to be able to fill in and sign forms online to be able to print out ahead to time, to further cut down on ambiguity.
Disclaimer : To be safe, this post isn’t meant to be any kind of legal advice for people applying for an extension of visa in Japan. This post is for the purposes of recording my own experiences. The general moral of this story is that if you have questions about your visa, that you should go and get a consultation well in advance of when your visa extension application is required.