Today, I went to the Kawasaki Immigration Office and picked up my Permission for Permanent Residence (that’s the official English title on the sticker in my passport). Unlike my previous visas, which were “signed” by the head of the Tokyo Immigration Office, this one is “signed” by the Minister of Justice. This is obviously a much bigger deal.
So, I’ve lived in Japan for just over six years and eight months, have been married to a Japanese citizen for little less than four years and seven months, and have a two-year-old Japanese (and British) daughter. The application seems to have gone through the system in the normal length of time, so it would appear that these are standard conditions for permanent residence.
One thing that stands out is how cheap the process is here. It costs $90 here, and you pay when your application is successful. By comparison, it costs $930 in the USA, about $1000 in Canada (as far as I can tell), and about $1200 in the UK, and in all cases you pay on application, and it isn’t refundable. Even if you include all the previous visas I had to have to tot up the required length of residence, it only comes to about $400, maximum. On the other hand, the required times of residence are shorter in the UK (although not by much), and Canada and the USA don’t seem to require residence at all. If you I don’t know about the decision times in other countries, but since the UK keeps your passport until they decide, I rather hope it’s less than the ten months they took here (which was normal, from what the staff in the office said to me).
The application process, as well as being cheap, was painless. The only slightly difficult bit was getting the information for all my close relatives in my complicated family, and even that only took a couple of days of waiting for the people in the appropriate countries to ask the people who knew. I went to the immigration office more often than necessary, to hand over documents in person, but I could have posted them.
Now, I’ve heard people describing the immigration procedure for such immigrant havens as the USA and Canada, and it sounds a lot more hassle than what I’ve had to go through. On the other hand, the chances of success don’t seem to change much; if you really are genuinely married to a US citizen, you really will get a green card, for example.
Thinking about it now, the best way to capture my impression is this. The immigration office in Japan goes out of its way to make the process easier for immigrants.
The application forms here are bilingual in English and Japanese, for example. Some of the forms are also available in other non-Japanese languages, particularly the re-entry permit forms. If the Japanese immigration office find a problem in your application, they write to ask you for additional information, or tell you to go away and gather what you need before applying. (Yes, if you go in person, the staff check that your application is complete, free of charge.) The fees aren’t payable until you’ve succeeded, and they’ve checked that everything is in order. They don’t even make you prove that you are obeying certain Japanese laws, such as the ones requiring you to join the national pension scheme and national health insurance scheme. You do have to prove you’re paying taxes, although the immigration office asks for the cheap, easy-to-get official bit of paper, unlike the bank that gave me my mortgage, who wanted the expensive, more complicated one.
A couple of concrete examples from my experience. When I applied to renew my marriage visa this time, I took in a document proving Yuriko’s income (nothing), because that’s what the website asked for. Not entirely to my surprise, the staff told me I needed the document proving my income. They told me what it was, and told me to bring it along when I came to pick the visa up. No point having me make a special journeyâ€¦
Similarly, when we moved part way through my permanent residence application, they called me to check I was still living with my wife, and then sent me a letter telling me which documents to send them. I did have to send those at the time, though. (I took them personally, to be sure they made it, although post would have been acceptable.)
Based on my completely unscientific sample, I think that the Japanese immigration officers are as concerned to ensure that the people who do qualify do get the visas as they are to ensure that people who are not qualified don’t. From my perspective, this is an unalloyed good, because it meant that they have decided to let me stay for the rest of my life.