Japan: New Immigration Application Forms Released; New Insurance Requirement Announced; and Substantial Revisions to Immigration Law Enacted

Japan: New Immigration Application Forms Released; New Insurance Requirement Announced; and Substantial Revisions to Immigration Law Enacted

Japan: New Immigration Application Forms Released; New Insurance Requirement Announced; and Substantial Revisions to Immigration Law Enacted

The Japanese Immigration Bureau has issued revised application forms. Effective immediately, applicants should use the new forms, although the prior versions will continue to be accepted for the time being. Effective April 1, 2010, enrollment in the Japanese social insurance system will be a prerequisite to renew or change visa types. In addition, Japan’s immigration statute will undergo a number of substantial changes over the next one to three years. Most notable will be the introduction of a new Resident (Zairyu) Card which will replace the current Alien Registration Card as a system of identification and registration for foreign national residents. Other key statutory changes include a new work visa category for on-the-job trainees, an increase to five years for visa extensions, and a two-month grace period allowing foreign nationals to continue working while an extension or change of visa type application is pending.

Revised Application Forms

The Immigration Bureau has completely revised its application forms with immediate effect. However, it will continue to accept prior versions of the applications for the time being. The new forms require fewer supporting documents from companies registered in Japan, or whose total Japanese income tax withheld from its employees for the previous year is JPY 15 million or more (approximately US$ 164,000). The revised forms are also divided into two sections: one for the individual applicant and one for the “organization” acting as a sponsor. Sponsoring Japanese companies must also affix their seal to the forms and list their authorized officers or representatives.

The new forms are available on the Immigration Bureau website. Below are links to the new Certificate of Eligibility applications for the major employment-related visa categories:

Social Insurance Membership Required to Renew or Change Visas

The Japanese government requires all salaried employees, local or foreign, to participate in the country’s Social Insurance (“Shakai Hoken”) System. The system provides health, pension, worker’s compensation, and unemployment insurance coverage for employees and their families.

Beginning April 1, 2010, enrollment in the Social Insurance System will be a prerequisite for renewing a visa or changing visa types. Foreign national employees will be required to present their Social Insurance card at the Immigration Bureau when applying to extend or change their visas.

Note that the Japanese government has not yet announced if there will be exemptions to this new requirement for certain nationalities. However, Japan has entered into various international social security agreements which could allow employees who are nationals of certain countries to apply for some exemptions from Social Insurance System coverage. Currently, Japan has entered into such agreements with Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Netherlands, South Korea, United Kingdom and United States. Fragomen is monitoring this development and will provide updates as they become available.

Substantial Revisions to Immigration Act

On July 15, 2009, the Japanese government enacted significant changes to its Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. These changes take effect over the next one to three years. In addition, as the various changes near their effective dates, Japanese authorities will issue additional ordinances and administrative regulations that will provide greater detail of the changes. Fragomen is monitoring the implementation of this legislation and will provide updates as they become available.

The following is a summary of the key changes to be implemented under the new system:

A New Resident Card Program

Japan will implement a new Resident (“Zairyu”) Card to replace the current Alien Registration Card (ARC) as a system of identification for foreign national residents who remain in Japan for more than three months. Under the new system, the Japanese Immigration Bureau will assume responsibility for the processing and issuance of Resident Cards, as opposed to municipal government offices, which are currently responsible for the ARC system. The new Resident Cards will generally be valid for the duration of a foreign national’s period of permitted stay, unlike the current validity period for ARCs, which range from one to five years regardless of the permitted period of stay.

The Resident Card program is expected to be in place on or before July 15, 2012. Related ordinances and regulations with more details of the implementation of the Resident Card are expected to be issued shortly before this target date.

Japanese border officials will automatically issue the new Resident Cards upon landing to individuals granted a stay of more than three months, subject to exceptions, so foreign nationals will no longer have to register with their local Municipal Office within 90 days of arrival. With the new system, foreign nationals will be registered together with Japanese nationals on the country’s “Juki Net” registry, a nationwide computer network containing demographic data on residents by municipality.

Foreign nationals aged 16 or older who will remain in Japan more than three months must be in possession of the new Resident Card at all times. The new Resident Cards will include the holder’s name, residential address, visa type, and expiration date, along with other information. Resident Card holders will be required to report changes to personal information at Immigration Bureau offices, except for address changes which will continue to be reported to the appropriate Municipal Office.

Foreign nationals who fail to keep their Resident Card in their possession may be fined up to JPY 200,000. These penalties already exist under the current ARC program, but stricter enforcement is expected in the new system. Similarly, Resident Card holders who fail to report, without a valid reason, a relevant change in circumstances, such as when a dependent spouse visa holder changes marital status or a work visa holder changes employers or address, within 14 days of the change may be fined up to JPY 200,000. The submission of false information may result in imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to JPY 200,000. In addition, the Immigration Bureau will have the authority to revoke a foreign national resident’s visa for failure to report a relevant change in circumstances within 90 days of the change or for the submission of false information.

An additional key change under the new system is the relaxation of re-entry permit requirements. Resident Card holders departing Japan with valid passports who make a clear expression to the immigration official of their intent to return within one year will no longer be required to secure a re-entry permit. Currently, ARC holders must obtain a re-entry permit to travel abroad.

Validity Periods for Visas and Re-entry Permits Extended to 5 Years

The maximum length of stay with Japanese visas and their associated re-entry permits will be extended from three to five years. This change is expected to take effect on or before July 15, 2012. The Japanese government is expect to issue administrative regulations confirming which visa types will be affected, along with other details of this measure, in the future.

Work Visa Status for On-the-Job Training (OJT) Participants

A new visa category called On-the-Job Trainee (“Gino-Jishyu”) will be introduced to allow trainees to enter Japan and engage in on-the-job training activities under an employment contract. Individuals under this visa category will be fully protected upon entry by Japan’s employment laws, including its Labor Standards Act and Minimum Wage Act. Currently, individuals undergoing on-the-job training use the non-work Trainee visa status, which allows them to stay in Japan for a fixed period of time, after which they can perform limited work activities if they change to a Designated Activities visa status.

The On-the-Job Trainee visa category is expected to be implemented on or before July 15, 2010.

Grace Period for Renewals and Changes of Visa

Effective July 15, 2010, foreign national employees seeking to renew their visas or change visa types will be permitted to continue working under an existing visa for up to two months while the applications are pending, provided that the applications were filed within the validity period of their existing visas.

In preparing this alert, Fragomen has worked closely with ILS Shimoda Office L.P.C. in Tokyo, Japan. The content herein is provided for informational purposes only.

If you have any questions regarding this alert, please do not hesitate to contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen Global Immigration Services or send an email to APCCInitiations@fragomen.com.