Read up on the upcoming changes to immigration policy – pretty much all positive!

Happy foreigners love the new system!

Starting next month (July 9), the immigration authorities are going to implement a series of changes to the rules for foreigners in the country. The biggest is probably replacing the foreigner registration card (gaikokujin torokusho) with a residency card (在留カード). It’s more or less the same, but it will now be administered directly by immigration, not the local authorities.

There are a lot of other changes as well, so it would probably be a good idea to sit down for maybe an hour and familiarize yourself with them. The government’s handy website can be found here for Japanese and here for English.

All in all, these represent some real benefits for expats, so I think the authorities deserve a pat on the back on this one. So far my personal experience with immigration has been very positive, and it looks like my warm feelings will only continue. Here are some of the new rules that caught my eye:

  • The general term for a medium-term visa will be extended from 3 to 5 years.
  • A “deemed” re-entry system will allow anyone on medium-term or permanent resident visa to leave the country and return without a special application or fee, provided they come back within one year. Longer periods out of the country will still follow the old system of filing an application and paying a fee for a temporary re-entry permit.
  • Changes of address will still go through local government offices the same as Japanese people, but changes to marital and employment status, etc. will need to be reported to immigration. That could be a pain in the butt, but apparently they plan to allow you to report changes by mail, which would be a huge improvement.
  • The new card won’t include personal information such as employer or school name on the card. Instead that information will be stored in an on-board chip.
  • Violations of the new system are now subject to penalties and fines!
  • People whose old gaijin cards are still valid in July don’t need to get the new cards right away. You will have up to three years to get the new one.
  • Foreigners will be added to the juminhyo system instead of being part of a separate registry. I am not sure exactly why this is a big deal, but presumably not maintaining a totally separate database will save the government some money.

UPDATE: Another big benefit is that for newcomers, residency cards will be issued upon entry, so you will no longer need to show up at city hall to register and wait for the card to be issued. This along with some other services is only available at major airports. You are still required to go to the local office to “notify” them of your presence… But if I’m not mistaken this is functionally not that different from what Japanese people have to do when they move.

Did I miss anything big? Please let me know in the comments, and be sure to read up on the new system!

16 thoughts on “Read up on the upcoming changes to immigration policy – pretty much all positive!”

  1. The juminhyo is a big deal to me because I will no longer be a footnote on our family’s record, I’ll be listed at the top like an actual human being.

  2. The fact that foreigners will be added to the juminhyo system is pretty big for mixed Japanese/non-Japanese households, as Daniel mentioned. A (non-Japanese) friend’s (Japanese) spouse is currently living in a separate city for work. Under the current system, because my friend is not Japanese, one of their elementary school-age children must be listed as “head of household”. Under the new system, my friend will be able to be the legal head of household.
    I learned of a minor inconvenience when dealing with my local city hall recently. Under the current system, when a foreigner moved, they only had to notify the local government office at their new residence. Under the new system, foreign residents must notify both the local office that they are moving away from as well as the local government office they are moving to.
    Why the new government office can’t notify the old office is a mystery to me.

  3. The only thing that could be potentially annoying for job-changers is that supposedly employers will be required to inform Immigration when a foreigner leaves a job. So while in the past Immigration had no way of knowing if you were unemployed for a while, now they will at least have the option of enforcing the 3-month(?) limit for being unemployed on a working visa. Who knows if they will bother to enforce this, though.

  4. I think being on the juminhyo will also allow you to join the “juki net”, which in turn means you can do things like tax returns completely online.

  5. Another drawback to the new system is that you need a proper visa in order to register. It used to be that you could get an alien registration card with just a tourist visa, or even with no visa at all (as mentioned on this blog a few years ago). This made it possible for visa-less people to get a bank account, mobile phone, etc. Not any more, though. IIRC some cities complained about this change because they can no longer track undocumented residents for purposes of welfare etc.

  6. I am pretty sure that you could never get a mobile phone contract as a tourist, since they all require a visa with at least 90 days remaining. Since it takes a couple of days to process the alien registration card application, there is no possible way to meet that requirement without a longer term visa.

    As for a bank account, I am not completely sure. Do their application forms also specify you need to be a longer than 90 day stay resident?

  7. The cell phone companies phased in the 90-day rule around 2006 or 2007. Back in 2005 I did not even need an alien registration card in order to get a phone — AU accepted my US credit card and passport as sufficient ID. They did require local ID for prepaid phones, but not for contract phones.

    Banks have differing rules — I believe that Shinsei will not set up accounts for “temporary visitors,” but SMBC and MUFJ will so long as they have an alien card.

  8. Interesting that they phased it in like that. Back in 2002 I showed my passport and 1 year student ID to get a phone from AU, but of course that was because they had a really good student discount back then.

    Is there any actual law or official regulation about setting up banks for foreigners, or is that just their own policy?

  9. A question for non-Japanese who are married to Japanese: with the new registration system that goes into effect in July international couples have to decide who is the head of their household. The head can be either the husband or the wife, and either the Japanese or the non-Japanese. My wife and I are trying to figure out who should be the head of our household, and whether our choice will affect our taxes. Anybody know anything about this?


  10. As far as I know, there is no tax effect either way; the only practical significance of being the “head of household” is that you have the obligation to file stuff on behalf of other members of the household in certain instances (national insurance, pension, etc).

    When I got married, the city hall in Shinjuku offered to make me the “de facto head of household” on my wife’s juminhyo (it appears as a comment, buried in a section which doesn’t get printed unless you request the longest form certificate available). In the current change-over, they made me head of household on the family juminhyo without asking. That said, Shinjuku has the largest non-Japanese population of any municipality in Japan (last I checked) so I would expect them to be systematic about this.

  11. Like Joe, I was also automatically upgraded from 事実上の世帯主 to 世帯主 under the new system, having held the former position since I married in 2000. The clerc at the Omiya city hall didn’t know about this system then and had to be shown the corresponding passage in “国際結婚ハンドブック”.

  12. I believe that the change in requirements for mobile phones specifically relates to オレオレ詐欺 and the related problems — they want a registered address and residency for all phone numbers. The same goes for bank accounts – I tried as late as 2010 to help a (soon to be valid) resident get a bank account – about 3 banks said absolutely no as long as he had less than 90 days on his visa.

  13. Those with Permanent Residency (under the old system) didn’t have their employer/etc on the card either; it disappeared after you renewed the ARC.

    For the tinfoil hat crowd:

    The RFID chip in these, btw, is just like a RFID passport*, is encrypted with BAS (basic access control). This prevents “skimming”… in that in order to read the chip, you need to know the contents of the card (usually a combo of the DoB, expiration date, card number, etc); ex. skimming a bag with a card surreptitiously without knowing the individual’s BAS credentials in advance will not get you any personal info.

    * The United States, Germany, Japan (and many other countries) use BAS for their RFID e-passports. When an immigration officer takes your passport, the machine gets your BAS credentials from the “machine readable OCR zone” of page 1 of your passport so it can authenticate with the chip in the passport.

  14. “I am pretty sure that you could never get a mobile phone contract as a tourist, since they all require a visa with at least 90 days remaining.”

    US citizens only get three months, but UK and other citizens get six, I believe, due to reciprocity. Would they have been able to line up mobile phone service on their tourist statuses of residence?

  15. As for the phone issue, I actually managed to get the prepaid mobile only with my tourist visa registration and less than one month left from my stay in summer 2011. It was at Softbank shop in Kyoto’s Shijo-dori. Of course I understand it is against the rules and it visibly took some special effort on the part of the lady at the counter and a good deal of patience and perseverance in finding the right place on my part. Anyway, if not de iure, de facto it was possible and my case is hardly unique.
    The new system very clearly enables better control and it seems the rules are going to be more strictly enforced. Still I am very happy overall with the changes – as noted before, it feels great to be considered more like human being in Japan.

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