Today I went to the immigration office to exchange my Certificate of Alien Registration for a Residence Card. The system for foreigners resident in Japan changed in July, and everyone needs to change to a Residence Card. They don’t need to do it immediately, but it’s not entirely clear when they should. If you have a limited-term status of residence, it is clear; you will get the Residence Card when you renew or change your status of residence. For permanent residents, however, the deadline is July 8th 2015, or possibly when your Certificate of Alien Registration expires, if that is earlier. The secretariat of the Representative Assembly was told the first, and one of the representatives the second. The secretariat are trying to get an authoritative answer, but in the meantime my Certificate of Alien Registration was getting rather close to expiring, so I decided to get it changed now.
This was remarkably little trouble. You can download the application form, and it’s extremely short and simple; basically just your name, date of birth, sex, address, nationality, and Certificate of Alien Registration number. The form is in English and Japanese, just like all the other immigration forms. You have to attach an ID photo in a standard size and format, and take the form, along with your CAR and passport, to the local immigration office. This is the only possibly bothersome part of the process, as you have to go to the office in person. We happen to live quite close to the office, so it takes me less than an hour door to door, but if you lived on the Ogasawara Islands you would have to get a boat for about 24 hours each way. On the bright side, if you have permanent residence, the Residence Card is valid for seven years, so you don’t have to do it very often.
I was in the office for about half an hour, which included reissuing a revised card because the first version didn’t display my address in exactly the same way as the CAR. I’ve had problems with that in the past; some places are very picky. That means, of course, that some of the picky places have the CAR version, so I want a piece of official ID with the same address on it. The whole process was extremely efficient, and there is no fee.
This is typical of my experiences with Japanese immigration. If you are in the country legally, they seem to be efficient and even helpful. (When I moved during my application for permanent residence, they phoned to check and sent me the form to report my change of address before I’d got round to them on my list of places to notify.) The various procedures also seem to be significantly cheaper than those in other countries. (Free, for example.) Japan might have fairly strict standards for who they will let in, but the immigration office gives the impression that they actually want the people who do meet the standards in the country. Actually, I’ve got that impression from just about everyone.
If you’re a permanent resident of Japan and haven’t changed your card yet, now might be a good time, but the year end rush will start soon. My experience suggests that going at a quiet time will ensure a very quick visit to the office, so I guess that means avoiding year end, the beginning of the academic year in March/April, and the other student visa period in September/October. However, now that re-entry permits are unnecessary, year end and the summer might be quieter than they used to be.
I certainly do not recommend waiting until July 2015. I suspect the offices will be really, really busy then.