Got questions about your Japan visa? Whether you’re a new resident or a resident whose visa is up for renewal, or a tourist who’s staying here for the time being, here’s some information on Japan visa applications during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, we’ve included a few pointers for long-term Japan residents currently abroad, long-term residents wanting to leave Japan temporarily and re-enter, as well as new arrivals due to move to Japan.
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. The situation is changing constantly. Always check directly with the nearest Immigration Bureau about your specific visa situation.
Residents in Japan: Visa issues
For mid- to long-term residents whose visas needed to be renewed between March and July this year, immigration authorities 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 had 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 had until August 11 to submit your application for extension.
Note: This COVID-19 provision excluded foreign residents living in Japan under the status of a Designated Activities (Departure Preparation Period) visa.
Though the extension period has ended, you can find more information about it in this release from the Immigration Services Agency.
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
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.
October 19, 2020 update: Students who wish to work can 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.
In addition, holders of a Designated Activities visa who have not been allowed to work after completing technical training courses, may be eligible for permission to work part time while waiting to return to their home country. This is part of a new provision that came into effect on December 1, 2020, aimed at short-term visitors stuck in Japan.
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. You can read more about tourist visa extensions here.
Over six months have passed since then, and it is assumed that many stranded tourists have since returned to their home countries via repatriation flights and the like.
December 1, 2020 update: Anyone still stuck in Japan on a short-term visa may be able to apply for permission to work part time while they wait to return home. Jobs will be capped at 28 hours a week. See the official notice.
- Being unable to find flights to return to your home country
- Lacking sufficient financial resources to support yourself in Japan
Residents currently outside Japan: Re-entering the country
Update September 1, 2020: On August 28, the Japanese government announced that foreign residents who left Japan before August 31, 2020, and are in possession of a valid re-entry permit, would be eligible to re-enter Japan from September 1. Re-entry is subject to meeting requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
New arrivals: Moving to Japan during COVID-19
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 December 1, 2020.