Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Getting a work visa without leaving the country?

I was interviewing with one of the many Japanese English schools not too long ago. This particular one was in Nagano-ken, in a rather small town well outside the shinkansen lines. The usual questions followed regarding teaching experience, previous time in Japan, etc, when the director mentioned that he would like to have me come to Japan on a tourist visa and work in the school.

Had I not already lived over there for two years, this might have held some appeal for me. However, let me explain to you Japan newbies why working on a tourist visa is a terrible idea:

1. You have no contract. No recourse if the school decides to set you adrift. You may land in Tokyo and find no one waiting for you, no assistance with anything essential: cell phone, housing, bank account.

2. It's illegal. You can be deported if caught.

3. It's next to impossible to work for a reputable company without a gaijin card. That card gets you a bank account, without which you cannot get paid; nearly all companies pay with electronic transfers. Without that card, you're really, really limited for places to live (no apts, only a few gaijin houses, hotels, hostels, etc). You can't join a gym. It's a terrible inconvenience and an impossibility outside of the big cities.

I mean, I was amazed the employer even suggested working illegally: he must have understood the problems I would face. That is until he mentioned there had been a change in the law, and foreigners could have their visa status changed from tourist to working without making the standard run to South Korea.

WHAT??? All that trouble I could have faced for nothing? Could this be true, that Japan changed a major immigration law in an attempt to bring more foreigners onto the workforce?

Apparently so. Such a change in policy benefits Japan, by allowing foreigners to come into the country without a job lined up to search for jobs, and start work rather quickly.

You’re not allowed to work in Japan without a working visa. But if you find a job and a company willing to sponsor your work visa, you can apply for the work visa and have it issued without leaving the country. A few years ago, this wasn’t possible; you’d have to apply in Japan, get some sort of form issued, and then leave the country and go to a Japanese embassy overseas to get the visa issued. Now it can all be done without leaving Japan...

So saddle up, job seekers. Take the first flight into Narita, enjoy a relaxing soak, then get started with the job search. Incidentally, if there is anyone doing this and keeping a blog on the experience, I'd love to read it. Also, does anyone know anything about the history of this new policy? Is it anything like the experience of non-citizens applying for US work visas (visum usa)?


  1. You have long been able to change visa statuses within Japan without needing to leave the country.

    In 2004, I had a software development job lined up and came to Japan. I was initially given tourist visa and applied for a work visa while in Japan. I was told by the people at the airport that I would need to change my visa status at an embassy outside of the country, but after the paperwork was completed, I just went to the Tōkyō Immigration office and they changed my visa status to a working visa. I know of similar stories by others.

  2. Doing such a thing seems like a terrible waste of money to me. You spend a lot of time with bureaucracy and job-hunting, and all the while you're spending, spending, spending: lodging expenses, food, travel expenses, and so forth. Why not just do the job hunt from home?

    I know a lot of people just talk about picking up and moving somewhere to find a job. It's enormously more difficult than you'd think. Plus, a lot of employers require different types of documents from home, and you need to come prepped with those as well.

    I'm not saying it's an impossibility, I just think it's far more practical to get your ducks in a row before you depart for a very foreign land.

    I find your blog interesting and very informative. I have my own blog about living in Korea:

  3. Thanks Drew, I'll check it out. I'm headed over to Korea in August.

  4. Hi there. I recently made the crazy decision to buy a ticket to Japan for three months before coming back without having found a job yet. I'm kind of nervous honestly but glad I came across this blog. I guess my experience might turn up being a 'leap-of-faith' type of job hunting journey. Any further suggestions would be appreciated, I'll keep you posted on my adventure and might even record and upload my progress.