Got questions about your Japan visa? Whether you’re a resident whose visa is up for renewal or a tourist who’s stuck here for the time being, here’s some handy information on extending your Japan visa during the COVID-19 crisis.
First, a quick disclaimer: we spoke to an immigration lawyer in Tokyo when putting 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 June this year, immigration authorities have essentially granted a three-month extension.
This means that if your residence card was due to expire in March, April, May or June, you now have an extra three months, from the expiration date, to submit your application to extend your stay or change your residence status.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 a three-month 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, some sources indicate 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 information on this.
Pro tip: Been living in 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 currently in Japan who are 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.
However, there is one gray area here. Travelers from certain countries, like the US, UK and Canada, are eligible for a 90-day Temporary Visitor visa upon arrival in Japan. This is the class of visa that seems to be referred to in articles about the automatic extension. But, as readers from many other countries, like South Africa, will know, their Temporary Visitor visa is usually much shorter than 90 days, e.g. 14 or 30 days, and processed by a Japanese embassy or consul in advance of travel. It is not clear whether tourists currently in Japan on these shorter visas are eligible for the same automatic 90-day extension. If this is you, it is advisable to contact the immigration authorities directly, if you have not yet done so.
Questions about visa extensions
To help prevent crowding and the possible spread of COVID-19, it’s best not to physically go to Immigration Bureau offices during the state of emergency 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.
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 May 1, 2020.