A few weeks ago, I wrote that I’m not an expert on Japanese visas and was writing from the point of view of personal experience. As soon as I had submitted that article to the editors, I stumbled across an excellent book called, most appropriately, “A Japanese Visa Handbook”, by Motoko Kuroda and published by ICG Muse, Inc. This handy little tome offers lots of great information on the background of Japanese immigration law, as well as a description of each of the visa types and how they are used.

In particular, I found the background information to be very useful. As an employer and recruiting consultant, one that is often asked to give input to job applicants who haven’t straightened out their visa problems yet – it really helps to understand how the immigration people think. For example, knowing why Japanese immigration rules seem so arbitrary – because the country doesn’t want immigrants (not yet, at least) – immediately clarifies what is needed to get someone a visa. What is that? Well, in place of black and white rules, you instead have to show strength of desire to get the visa. This translates into voluminous paperwork, persistence, and support from the hiring company and related sponsors. Put in the right effort, and your chances of successfully getting a visa increase. Simple, right?

Another area that I was always hazy on and which the book explains clearly is the difference between a visa and a Status of Residence permit. As Kuroda-san says, the visa is simply a preliminary document which gives you permission to travel to Japan and apply to stay there. A visa represents the information you gave the authorities and their decision is based on that information. However, the actual document which allows you to stay in Japan, the Status of Residence permit, may be given or withheld by the immigration inspectors at each port of entry. A visa is not a guarantee of entry.

For those people who have a burning desire to live and work in Japan, using this book lets you figure out a strategy for getting in, and then for staying in. As it clearly states, citizens of a country that has a visa-waiver agreement (no visa required) with Japan, and who can come in on a visa exemption, are not allowed to engage in paid activities in Japan. Knowing this, then, allows you to instead choose to come in on a more suitable visa – ranging from a student visa (which allows you to work up to 28 hours a week) to a Temporary Visitor’s visa – knowing that “consulting” is an allowed occasional (not repeated) activity under this type of visa.

The book also covers some visa types that are hard to get information on, such as the Teijusha, which is used by foreign nationals whose Japanese spouse has deceased or been divorced. Knowing that such a visa is available, and how to get it in advance, can save a lot of grief during stressful times when you don’t need extra interference in your life. At the back, it also has a useful appendix with sample submission forms and contact information.

If I had any complaints about this book, it is that in Kuroda-san’s attempt to supply accurate information, she skips a discussion of practical strategies in dealing with visas. For example, she doesn’t mention that you can go to Seoul to get your visa, rather than travel all the way home. She also doesn’t discuss borderline problems, such as moving from a humanities visa to, say, an engineering visa. I’ve seen a number of JET teachers parlay their language and computer skills (especially after spending long winter nights in the middle of the Aomori country side) into a new technology or management career. It would be helpful to know the process for doing this.

Still, “A Japanese Visa Handbook” is an excellent effort at quantifying a difficult subject and should be on the list of required reading for anyone contemplating moving to Japan, or changing careers or marital status in Japan.

If you are considering a career in the recruiting industry, you can drop Terrie Lloyd an email for more advice at terrie.lloyd@daijob.com. You can also see his weekly newsletter, called Terrie’s Take, at http://www.terrielloyd.com/terries-take/