Got questions about your Japan visa? Whether you’re a resident whose visa is up for renewal or a tourist who’s staying here for the time being, here’s some handy information on extending your Japan visa during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, we’ve included some information for long-term Japan residents who are stuck abroad.
First, a quick disclaimer: we spoke to an immigration lawyer in Tokyo when putting the first draft of this article together, but it should not be taken as legal advice. Additionally, the lawyer emphasized that the measures being taken by immigration authorities could change almost daily. Always check directly with the nearest Immigration Bureau about your specific visa situation.
Residents in Japan
For mid- to long-term residents whose visas need to be renewed between March and July this year, immigration authorities have essentially granted a three-month extension on applications for renewal or change of status.
This means that if your residence card was due to expire in March, April, May, June or July, you have an extra three months, from the expiration date, to submit your application to extend your stay or change your residence status. In practice, this means that if your visa was due to expire on May 11, for example, you would have until August 11 to submit your application for extension.
Note: This COVID-19 provision excludes foreign residents living in Japan under the status of a Designated Activities (Departure Preparation Period) visa.
What if I have lost my job in Japan?
Please scroll down for the latest (June) updates.
May 1, 2020 update: The Immigration Bureau has announced special measures for work visa holders in Japan who have been laid off or otherwise had their employment negatively affected by the coronavirus situation.
According to the lawyer we spoke to, under these measures, foreign workers who:
– Have been laid off
– Have been asked to wait without payment
– Have had their working hours reduced
And who wish to start working again are allowed to keep their work visas, and apply for permission to engage in activities outside of their visa category, which will be valid for a period of six months.
In addition, foreign workers whose work visa will expire in the meantime are able to apply for a change of visa status to Designated Activities, in order to look for another job in Japan.
If you have recently become unemployed, it will not be possible to renew your work visa unless you have secured another job. However, if you are unable or unwilling to find a new job, but also cannot return to your home country due to the pandemic, you can change your work visa to a 90-day Temporary Visitor visa (most likely requiring a trip to Immigration) while you wait for flights and borders to start operating normally again.
The immigration lawyer we spoke to said that, should a person in the above situation then find a new job in Japan before their Temporary Visitor visa expires, it should be possible to apply for a new work visa. However, they would not be able to work in Japan while on the Temporary Visitor visa—this is very important to note.
Additionally, in many cases jobseekers are required to submit their applications for work visas from abroad, not from within Japan. It is unclear how the COVID-19 situation may affect this requirement, if at all, but caution is advised to avoid a visa misstep. If you intend to apply for a new job in Japan, it is best to apply for the Designated Activities (job-hunting) visa first.
June 22, 2020 update: Immigration have revised their policies for mid- to long-term residents who are still struggling to get back to their home country. Instead of the Temporary Visitor visa, they may now be issued a six-month Designated Activities visa (not automatically; application is required). This does not necessarily allow work, so check carefully with Immigration before undertaking any employment. More details.
Note: Foreign residents in Japan are legally required to inform their local Immigration Bureau of any changes in their employment status, including loss of employment, within 14 days of the change occuring. This can be done in writing, via snail mail, or online—see the Immigration Services Agency website for more information.
“Justifiable reasons” to not have your visa revoked
Under normal circumstances, if you have been working in Japan and then suddenly stop, and are just floating about, the immigration authorities can legally revoke your visa. I mean, they allowed you to come over for a specific reason, and if that reason no longer exists, what exactly are you doing here, and why should they allow you to stay?
However, these are not normal circumstances we find ourselves in. So, if you have been living in Japan with a visa in one of the categories listed in Appended Table 1 of the Immigration Control Act, such as Engineer/Specialist in Humanities/International Services, Skilled Labor or Student, but you haven’t been able to engage in the activities your visa hinges on, for three months or longer, if there is a justifiable reason for this, you may not be subject to revocation of the status of your residence.
Justifiable reasons include:
- The company you work for is seeing a slump in business, and they’ve asked you to stop working temporarily
- The place you’re studying is closed
- You’ve been hospitalized for a prolonged period of time
Students in Japan
The same three-month visa extension provision should apply for students in Japan. However, it is important to note that students who wish to renew their visas need to remain enrolled in a school in order to do so.
It is possible to change a student visa to a 90-day Temporary Visitor visa if someone is no longer able to pursue their studies in Japan, e.g. they can no longer afford tuition fees, but are also unable to return to their home country. It is important to note that students in this situation will not be able to work legally in Japan while waiting to return home.
June 22, 2020 update: Students who graduated after January 1, 2020, and who wish to work can now apply for a six-month Designated Activities (Permitted to Work Part-Time within a Limit of 28 Hours a Week) visa. More details.
Residents on a Technical Training visa or Designated Activities visa
People living in Japan on a Technical Training visa or Designated Activities visa (covering interns, summer jobs, foreign construction workers, foreign shipbuilders and foreign manufacturing employees) who wish to remain in their current position are also eligible for an extension to their visa.
Note: For those on the Technical Training visa who have lost their jobs due to the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that it may be possible to apply for a new position and remain in Japan. However, it is recommended that you contact the immigration authorities directly for more information on this.
Pro tip: Been a resident of Japan for over three months? Find out how to claim your 100,000 JPY COVID-19 payment from the government.
Tourists in Japan
At the beginning of April, immigration authorities announced that tourists in Japan who were unable to return to their home countries due to the impact of COVID-19, such as flight cancellations and border closures, would be eligible for an automatic 90-day extension of their Temporary Visitor visa.
Several months have passed since then, and it is assumed that many stranded tourists have returned to their home countries via repatriation flights and the like. Anyone still rattling around Japan on a tourist visa is advised to contact the immigration authorities to make sure they aren’t overstaying their welcome.
Residents stuck outside Japan: Re-entering the country
Many foreign residents of Japan, including permanent residents, have had a really tough time trying to get back into the country since borders closed. Up until now, unless they could show extremely exceptional circumstances that necessitated their return to Japan, they’ve pretty much been locked out, along with other citizens of 146 countries and regions.
On July 30, though, the Japanese government announced that certain residents will be allowed back into Japan from August 5, 2020. It is estimated that around 88 000 of the 100 000 residents currently outside Japan will be eligible.
The following conditions apply for re-entry into Japan:
- Your visa status is one of those on the government’s re-entry list: this currently seems to include international students, technical trainees, researchers and company employees stationed in Japan. Other statuses are expected to be added in the coming weeks.
- You left Japan temporarily, with re-entry permission, before the day on which the country or region you have been in was barred from entry to Japan.
- Upon arrival in Japan, you need to present a Re-entry Confirmation Letter, which must be obtained from a Japanese consulate or embassy near you.
- You also need to present a certificate confirming a negative PCR test result, with the test conducted within 72 hours of the departure of your flight.
- You will undergo another PCR test after arriving in Japan, and you will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
International school teachers, both new hires and existing staff and their families, are not subject to the travel entry ban imposed by the Japanese government.
Questions about visa extensions and re-entry
To help prevent crowding and the possible spread of COVID-19, it’s best not to physically go to Immigration Bureau offices unless there is absolutely no alternative. It is recommended that you call or email first for advice on what you need to do regarding your visa, and when.
Note that if you do go in person, you may need to wait outside the building for some time, as the number of people allowed in at one time is being restricted.
The NHK News website also has a comprehensive Q&A section on Japan visa and other issues related to COVID-19—check it out.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Always consult your local Immigration Bureau, embassy or consul, and/or an immigration lawyer if you are unsure about anything related to your visa for Japan. This article was last updated on July 30, 2020.