How can a Canadian on a working holiday visa in Japan get a work visa to stay longer?
September 15, 2010 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Always desiring to experience living in Japan, I moved in the country from Canada almost a year ago on a working holiday visa, which will expire next month. My life here is stable so far, including a job at a company willing to sponsor me for a work visa. I want to live in Japan for a longer period, but the problem is I don't seem to meet the requirements for a visa. I am aware that getting married is the easiest way, but unfortunately, I do not have that possibility. Is there anything I can do to stay and work in Japan longer?

I posted a few times here before with questions about Japan. For those who don't recall (probably everyone), here is my story (or you can review my profile):

Many years ago, back home in Canada, I somehow drifted into the Japanese culture. It started by meeting random people from Japan online, then learning the language, getting to know the culture, and finally getting acquainted with Japanese people in person. Unbeknownst to me, Japan gradually became a part of my daily life, which I cherish today.

Before moving in Japan, I got involved in the Japanese-Canadian community, practiced the language daily, and met a Japanese girlfriend. She had a permanent resident visa and lived in Canada for a number of years studying. After graduating, she wanted to remain in Canada, but despite her efforts, she couldn't get a job and decided to move back in Japan.

Since I was hoping for a chance to live in Japan for so long, I thought that was my opportunity. Speaking Japanese and dealing with the culture within the small local Japanese-Canadian community became a routine, so moving in Japan seemed to be the next natural step. I was planning to go by myself someday on a working holiday visa anyway, so the timing was just right.

After the initial struggles, many months later, I'm now enjoying my life here. I lost my girlfriend (that seems to be the path of most foreigners here), but I am happy nevertheless. I even have a job in Web development and design at a great start-up company, with an atmosphere reminiscent to the mix of Canadian and Japanese I dealt with back home. The sad part is my new life here may be cut short because of one thing: a visa.

Frankly, I do not want to go back to Canada ― at least not now ― but I may have no choice. I spoke with two immigration lawyers from different firms my company hired. But with my lack of legal vocabulary in Japanese and their lack of English, I feel there still might be some stones unturned, which is why I'm asking for your advice today.

A one-year college certificate in a “Webmaster” programme ― a term used back then for a mix of Web development, Web design, and server administration ― and several years of experience are under my belt. The earliest project I worked on for a client was for a government programme back in 1998. But since this project predates my college time in 2000, the immigration office will most likely not consider it. They are not considering my experience during my working holiday, thus truncating my experience down to 8 or 9 years.

I've heard numerous times that the “easiest thing to do” is to get married, which is most likely not an option for me right now. If I marry someone I've just met a month ago, the immigration office will most likely reject my application for a spouse visa during their verification. Frankly, I'm not comfortable marrying someone just to get a visa.

The only alternative for me to stay and work here would be to get a work visa. There are two kinds of visas that were suggested by the lawyers I spoke with:

The first one is the engineer visa. In Japan, a Web developer is considered to be an engineer (even if I don't). For this, a 2-year degree or 10 years of experience are required.

The second one is the “Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa”. It is used by teachers and designers. Only 3 years of experience are required (or a 2-year degree, I think). But the lawyer doesn't know if a Web ‘designer’ can get such a visa.

Finally, if I do have to leave Japan and return to Canada, would it be best to get an extra year of experience or bite the bullet and go get a 2-year degree?

I'm looking forward to read all your comments. Thanks in advance for your help and support!
posted by remi to Travel & Transportation around Japan (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Any chance you could take up an avid interest in a Japanese martial art like Kendo or Judo and stay on a sporting visa, for "training"?
posted by thewalrus at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2010

i know nothing of japanese law - but, if you need a 2 year degree, can you get a student visa for japan, get hte degree, and then get an engineer visa?
posted by nadawi at 4:02 PM on September 15, 2010

A temporary option would be to teach English at one of those English Language schools, or perhaps the JET program.

I would do some internet research to find one that is reputable(some of them are pretty shady) but I imagine if you just walk in and demonstrate your language knowledge you could get a job.
posted by satori_movement at 4:39 PM on September 15, 2010

It seems like your company is the one to talk to about this. They should be better informed about the possibilities, and probably just as motivated as you are to solve the problem.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:51 PM on September 15, 2010

There are all sorts of web sites about teaching English in Japan. A good friend of mine has been there for the last 3 or 4 years now, she's moved from one program to another, and there are definite advantages between being in the city vs the inaka and which program. She wasn't pleased with her initial housing while other people she knew in the program had great places to live. I believe most of them require that you go through their training program, so it's not as simple as walking in and starting to teach. Some of them have specific methodologies.

I had always wanted to do something like that, which is why I am so up on the details despite it being something I will now never do.
posted by micawber at 4:52 PM on September 15, 2010

Would your employer keep employing you if you were based outside Japan but making frequent business trips back? If you did this for a year, would Japanese immigration consider this as qualifying work experience? If the answer to these questions is yes, would you consider traveling around that part of the world (staying wherever's cheap with reliable WiFi) for 12-18 months with frequent trips back inside until your qualifications and visa are squared away to resume full time onsite work? You'd really want to nail things down with a fluent immigration attorney since immigration authorities all over have a habit of changing their rules and requirements without much warning.

Nadawi's suggestion is possibly best. I know nothing of Japanese education (or immigration, or anything) but is there a chance someone at your company knows someone at an educational institution there with whom you could talk to about entering an advanced degree program (for which you are qualified for by real-world-experience, not previous degree qualifications) tailored to your needs (learning skills/developing projects for the job you have) instead of doing a perfunctory 2-year course walking through stuff you already know?
posted by K.P. at 5:02 PM on September 15, 2010

I know where you are coming from - I recall myself back in the 90s finishing one working holiday stint, returning briefly to Canada, applying at the consulate in Vancouver for a second working holiday and then returning to Japan. I'm not sure if this works any more.

The second one is the “Specialist in Humanities/International Services Visa”. It is used by teachers and designers. Only 3 years of experience are required (or a 2-year degree, I think). But the lawyer doesn't know if a Web ‘designer’ can get such a visa.

This seems like your best bet, and the only way you can find out is by applying. I'm curious why your company is not providing more support, although they probably realized that with your Working Holiday visa you would only be there for a short period of time.

Applying for a visa is not too difficult and generally does not require a lawyer. Just go to the immigration office, get the paperwork, fill it out, and hope for the best.

By the way, suggestions about teaching or doing JET are not realistic, because all of these require 4-year degrees.

I also spent time in Japan on a tourist visa, and I while I didn't work, I was taking correspondence courses to get a second Bachelor's degree. If you can fund yourself to do this, why not try it?

However, in the grand scheme of things it's not the end of the world if you have to return to Canada to finish up your education. The labour market in Japan (and in Canada) is going to get increasingly "kibishii", so having basic credentials will provide you with at least some security.

Japan will be waiting for you. Trust me - when I left with my family in 2004 I didn't think I would ever make it back, but I did.

And don't get married just so you can get a visa.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:39 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would also add that if you can get work doing anything but teaching English in Japan, such as web development, you are already ahead of the pack. English teaching is just not viable in Japan any more.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 PM on September 15, 2010

Application of Japanese laws is often capricious. Bureaucrats have a lot of latitude to grant or not grant things like visas.

If you are on the edge in terms of years of experience, go ahead and apply for the visa, go to the immigration office, wear a suit, smile a lot, tell them how much you love Japan, and you might get the visa. Are you a tall white guy? There's +10 points in your favor automatically. Unfair but true.
posted by zachawry at 7:42 PM on September 15, 2010

Your company is definitely who you should talk to first. If there is a way to help you stay there, they'll help you find it. If you have trouble at all communicating with lawyers about visas, pick up a copy of any foreigner targeted publication, like, say, Metropolis. They usually have a couple ads for bilingual immigration lawyers, if you need to go that route.

As for getting a different visa, you really need to know the ins and outs for the different types of visas. For example, getting a student visa prohibits you from working full-time (no more than 20 hours a week, I believe). The specialist in humanities visa (the standard eikaiwa teacher visa) allows you to do all manner of teaching, and is usually good for three years, but would require you to enter into an industry that's barely hiring, and pays pretty poorly. You'd need to stay long enough to get your visa, and with rules becoming stricter, it's possible that if you grab the visa and run, the company can call immigration and notify them that you're no longer working there. If you change jobs, you're required to notify immigration, even if you don't change your visa. If your new job doesn't match your visa, you'll have to get a new visa, and from what you're saying, that's the whole point anyway.

tl;dr Talk to your company. Find an immigration lawyer that specializes in working with English speakers.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:47 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm thinking that the lawyer your company consulted isn't really willing to think out side of the box on this one, which is common. I know there's a lawyer with offices near Shin-Osaka station that has helped a friend of mine, but I can't remember the name. Besides that try contacting the General Union (or the branch that administers the area in which you live) who might be able to steer you towards a better lawyer.

I have friends who have lived and taught here for years with only a high school degree. It's possible to get a visa if you show that you will be making enough money to pay for your living expenses it seems.

If you have to go back to Canada, you'll just have to bit the bullet and get the equivalent of a 4-year degree. I got a friend in Quebec who is studying hard just so he can come back.
posted by sleepytako at 8:31 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mostly echoing what has been said above...

Don't try to teach English if you have any other job at all.

If your current employer wants you they should go to bat for you. The attorneys you've talked to don't sound particularly helpful. If you know any foreigner there who has gone through the visa process ask them for immigration attorney referrals. (You could also just pull a name from one of the English language newspaper want-ads but it's hit or miss.) I've been told by Japanese immigration attorney that you don't need the degree, but having it makes the visa a slam dunk. Otherwise your sponsor just needs to make a convincing case of why they have to have you instead of a local. A properly minded immigration attorney can do that.

If you leave and want to get hired as a foreigner who lives in another country you'll probably need a 4-year degree to have any chance at all, so don't throw away your current relationship with your company.

For some kinds of work and under certain circumstances a Freelance visa might be easier. (I've forgotten the particulars, it's been a few years.) You might be able to get a cultural study visa if you can find someone to sponsor you. I know people who have had them to learn tea ceremony and soba making. They might limit the number of hours you can work, but they're a great way to learn more about the country and its culture.

In the short term you can duck out of the country for a couple days whenever your tourist visa is up. (I assume you're on a tourist visa.) Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, wherever. You can't do it indefinitely, but you can do it a few times to extend your stay. You'll get less attention from immigration if you say you're re-entering as a tourist rather than on business. If you say you're traveling on business and try the re-entry thing they'll tag you because they think your employer is trying to get away without a proper visa. From personal experience. Don't hold me liable if they refuse your reentry.
posted by Ookseer at 11:43 PM on September 15, 2010

I doubt the OP is on a tourist visa because it is illegal to be employed for a wage while on a tourist visa. If you do so and they find out, that will definitely make them unlikely to consider granting another visa of any kind. DO NOT work on a tourist visa if you ever want to get any other kind of visa in the future.

Honestly you should probably just get the college degree. If you manage to stay longer by some other method, your new visa will come up for renewal eventually and you may have the same problem then. Getting a two-year degree will help a lot.
posted by twblalock at 3:11 AM on September 16, 2010

The OP is on a working holiday visa.

I did a little bit of digging around for self-sponsorship visa rules, and I don't think this is actually a category. The MOFA website explains the visa requirements here, but self-sponsorship never comes up.

This thread is pretty useful for discussing visa issues. One commenter said: Many think that a work visa and a self-sponsored visa are different things, but they are not. It just depends on who will go through the efforts of lodging all the documentation
posted by KokuRyu at 9:38 AM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback!

To be clear on one thing, I am currently on a working holiday visa, not a tourist visa, and I am allowed to work.
posted by remi at 6:03 PM on September 16, 2010

Response by poster: As an addendum, I wish to add links below suggested by a user on another forum where I've also posted this question.

The Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice of Japan has some links about the application procedures, forms, and its related laws:

Also, several immigration law firms, like Nikai Immigration Services, provide experienced help to people who wish to apply for visas:

Again, to everyone, thank you for your comments. They will surely be helpful.
posted by remi at 9:50 PM on September 20, 2010

Coming late to the party. Just to note I was in the same situation as you - trying to get a working holiday visa extended with no degree and willing employer - but ended up giving back and going home. However, not knowing how desperate you are, I will offer you a sketchy option (one which I decided against doing myself) which is going the online degree mill route and buying a sham degree. I met a couple of people who claimed to have done this, with the japanese immigration authorities apparently being none the wiser. It was too dodgy for me, and I was afraid of an immigration ban and deportation if I was caught. But I thought I would throw that out there...and suggest that no, I don't there is a legitimate solution to your problem. Sorry!
posted by Ladysin at 9:41 PM on September 26, 2010

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