Getting into Japan with a criminal record
March 28, 2007 1:11 PM   Subscribe

So I have a small issue with my criminal record and obtaining a Japanese student visa.

I'm not sure if anyone will really be able to answer this question, but I will ask anyway.

I will be heading to Japan this fall as a graduate researcher, which requires me to apply for a student visa to stay in the country for two or more years. As part of the visa application process, I must fill out a form called "Application for Certificate of Eligibility."

It is a particularly bureaucratic document that requests all the standard names, addresses and personal history one would expect to provide during a visa application. This includes a small portion that asks, "Do you have any criminal record (if yes please explain)" and then provides a very, very tiny blank line for explanation.

I do in fact have a criminal record, though it was all acquired before the age of 21. No drug charges, nor violent crimes. A few theft and vandalism misdemeanors is all, but it's still more of a record than I'd like to have when applying for a visa to live in a foreign country.

I want to be honest on my application, but I also have a huge interest in my graduate school, which put me through an incredibly trying application process, and I don't want to forfeit my dreams and goals because I can't get a visa (I've already made it through the most demanding part of the grad. school ordeal, I just want my visa!). So I'm considering simply bubbling in the "No" instead of the "Yes."

This seems like a horrible idea--except there's one catch--I've done this before. The last time I lived in Japan I also required a student visa, and that time I lied, bubbling in "No," when prompted on my criminal background. It may have been a bad idea, but my certificate was approved, no problem, and I had a visa in days. I'm tempted to do the same thing this time around, but I'm strongly compelled to be honest, as lying on any part of the application is a disqualification.

So here's the questions, in order of importance: how much does a criminal record hurt my chances of getting a student visa in Japan? If I should choose to circle "Yes," how should I explain this, and what will the people evaluating my application be looking for in that tiny blank? What could i possibly write in that space that would explain multiple juvenile misdemeanors? Should I tell my university about the problem? Any other suggestions on how to deal with this?

I'm currently working on expunging these things from my record, but it's time consuming and expensive.

Please keep any comments relating to the morality of lying on a visa application to yourself. Also, comments along the lines of "you should have thought about this when you were breaking the law," aren't necessary, as we all make mistakes and I've had plenty of time to think about mine.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If neither the Japanese govt nor your uni already knows about it, and you've already been accepted once and the incidents haven't occurred since that last application, I'm inclined to just say no. I can't imagine this will be the most popular opinion, but I think it's what I would do.

Otherwise, Yes: For misdemeanor offenses at age __.
posted by andifsohow at 1:24 PM on March 28, 2007

Wouldn't those charges be expunged if they were that long ago?
posted by dr_dank at 1:56 PM on March 28, 2007

You say you were under 21... were you under 18? If the incidents happened when you were a minor wouldn't they be sealed?
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:01 PM on March 28, 2007

Wouldn't those charges be expunged if they were that long ago?

Having convictions expunged isn't necessarily helpful in immigration / visa cases. Expungement might mean that the relevant state or a private person or firm has to pretend that you were never convicted. It might mean that you can say "I was never convicted" without violating state law, and that firms can't ask about expunged offenses. But Japan, being its own country and all, isn't bound by US federal or state laws. If they want to ask about expunged offenses, they're free to. If they want to include expunged or sealed offenses in their "Have you ever been convicted..." question, that's their prerogative.

I'd usually counsel just being honest and not fucking around with the immigration people, because immigration agencies can be slow to have their anger aroused, but they know how to be angry and they hold an awesome grudge. The best spin on your crimes is probably that they were minor, a long time ago, and have not been repeated.

Is there no way to contact an immigration lawyer in Japan, or one in the US who deals with Japanese immigration?

At the very, very least, you should quietly try to find out what happens if you're caught. Do you just get thrown out of Japan and told not to come back for N years? Is there a risk of serious fine or jail time?

When did you get away with this? If it was pre-9/11 or not too long after, it's possible that a name check might turn up your record now that more records are interlinked electronically, which might make me more circumspect.

Is this just for the visa, or are you hoping to someday emigrate to Japan permanently? If it's the latter, you should check and see whether Japan's immigration process includes police checks. If it does, you're fucked at some point.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:34 PM on March 28, 2007

I had a friend who, when entering Japan (just as a stopover, I think), ticked yes, because he didn't want to lie. His criminal record was a single incident of DUI. He tells me that they were about to stamp everything and let him through, when the customs officer noticed the offending tick. The airport security then took my friend and locked him up. Seriously. They put him in a cell! Two hours later, they came back and released him with many apologies. Presumably, in that time they were checking with the Australian authorities to determine what crime he'd committed, and when they saw how minor it was, let him go.

Doesn't really answer the question, sorry, but does indicate that, at least for holiday visas, the Japanese government will still let people with criminal records into their country (albeit not without drama).

I would suggest you ask somebody at the Japanese Embassy. And if you're worried about them finding out about you in the process, then get a friend to go in and ask the questions for you.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:40 PM on March 28, 2007

As your previous application submitted to them is one of the things they will almost definitely look over in considering you, you shouldn't contradict that. They could be more concerned that you used to be a perjurer than that you used to be a vandal.

Whatever you do, though, make sure you submit it on A4.
posted by kickback at 2:48 PM on March 28, 2007

Well, you're a liar either way; either you're going to lie about your criminal record from a long time ago, or create a conflict between two documents that they have on file.

Be consistent. If you've already bubbled "no," then say no. I guess if you ever get caught, you might be pretty screwed, but maybe you can just act really surprised and say "oh...that? I was so young, I must have forgot!" and hope for the best.

I would just get your visa, and whatever you do, don't do anything that would cause anyone in Japan to ever glance at your file (like get arrested, get involved in protest/student groups that are going to get you red-flagged, mix your steel and aluminum cans together in the bin, etc.) during your stay. Just keep your nose clean, in other words.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:54 PM on March 28, 2007

Say no. Props to you for wanting to be honest about it, but Japan has perhaps the strictest immigration laws in the world. I don't really know if they'd deny you a visa, but they will only be looking at a piece of paper and perhaps won't care about any logical explanation of the situation.

Besides, you said they were misdemeanors. I've had plenty of speeding and parking tickets, also misdemeanors, but never felt compelled to check "yes" when I came here.
posted by zardoz at 7:25 PM on March 28, 2007

You might want to ask somewhere like TheJapanesePage.Com. (possible sorta self link, I do backend PHP/geek stuff for this site.). Your question might get answered by native folk, or others who have been through the student visa process...

I would be interested in the answer. Officially, I've had a parking ticket or two, and an Expired out-of-state Registration on a vehicle for what I think are official type things.... But I was homeless for a couple of years and there has been a Missing Person filed against me, and I'm sure my name was on some local Police watch list of "vagrant in the area, keep an eye on" sort of list.... I sorta wonder what these things would look like in the eyes of Japanese visa application...
posted by zengargoyle at 7:53 PM on March 28, 2007

« Older How can I help my husband?   |   How do I turn off menu auto-hiding in Microsoft... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.