Renewing my Visa to Remain in Japan

I applied to renew my visa to stay in Japan, today. That means that we've been here almost three years now, which on top of the 8 years I spent when I was just out of college, adds up to making me feel old. 🙂

What a difference it is dealing with Japan's version of the INS compared with the American version (now called something I can never remember and thankfully, no longer need to).

When applying for Fumie's green card in 1998-1999 in San Jose, California, we had to go to the INS office numerous times, and it was hell. You're always guaranteed an extremely long wait: if you arrive at 3am hoping to be first in line for the morning opening, you'll be sorely surprised at the length the line has already reached. You could arrive just when they open, only to wait hours in the line outside to find that they won't accept anyone else for the day, and be sent home never having even stepped inside. (I hear now that there's an online reservation system, which hopefully makes at least that aspect smoother.)

The worst part, though, was that every single member of the staff at the INS office would treat you like cattle, but without the respect one normally affords cattle. In every way, their treatment was dehumanizing, degrading, and demoralizing (which was perhaps their intent). It made me sick and embarrassed to be American, and worse, this was my new wife's introduction to my country. I can imagine it's only worse now, post-9/11.

Contrast this with my trip to the Japanese immigration office to apply for an extension of my visa....

I prepared the paperwork yesterday:

  1. My passport.
  2. My proof of alien registration card.
  3. The renewal application form.
  4. Fumie's koseki (“family registry,” as described in the previous post).
  5. Our juuminhyou (registry of address).
  6. Copies of our tax records.
  7. A letter of guarantee stating that Fumie, a Japanese citizen, would be responsible for any of my alien misdeeds should I do something bad and skip the country.

I also prepared a few things in case they might be required...

  • My bankbook, and a photocopy of the non-blank pages.
  • Our original certificate of marriage from San Jose, California.
  • Our most recent brokerage statement (which represents our savings and the source of our funding, since I haven't really been working for the last couple of years).
  • My and Fumie's inkan (personal/family seals).
  • Our family certificate for the National Health Insurance.

(This might seem like a lot, but other than the long drive to pick up Fumie's koseki, it didn't take long at all to put together)

So, this morning I made the 5-minute bike ride to the immigration office, and arrived 15 minutes after they opened. There were perhaps half a dozen people siting around waiting, and one person in line at the reception counter. I dutifully waited about 30 seconds for my turn, submitted my paperwork, got a number, and sat down.

Five minutes later, my number was called. The lady had a question about the application form. It turns out that I'd answered a question incorrectly because I made a mistake in reading the Japanese. Once that was fixed, she had a question about where we registered our marriage. This question, too, might be due to a Japanese mistake on my part. I'd noted on the form that we'd registered it both in America (in Santa Clara County, California, where we got married), and later in Japan, when Fumie moved from her Dad's family registry to her own, and I was noted as being her husband. I'm wondering now whether the kind of “marriage registration” referenced on the immigration form is different from the simple act of including me as her spouse in her family registry. I dunno.

The lady made a photocopy of our US marriage certificate, and took the photocopies of my bankbook (after confirming that they were indeed identical to the original), had me fill out my address on a “your application has been processed” postcard, and I was done. In and out in less than 15 minutes.

I'll hear the results in about two weeks. I fully expect it to be approved, but I'm curious whether they'll give me the 5-year extension that I asked for, rather than the 3-year extension that is probably standard for a case like mine. I asked for the longer one because, well, it doesn't hurt to ask..... (I hope).

UPDATE: I got the 3-year extension.

All 4 comments so far, oldest first...

Hah – I had a couple of hour long waits to get my fingerprints taken when we were going through the green-card process here. First for my employment authorization (picture and two finger prints) and a few months later for some other form (picture and ten finger prints or some such). Huh? And we couldn’t have done that the first time because … ?

Another fun one was when I came to the INS office and had the guards tell me to go to counter 7 for the emergency travel window and then have the supervisor come behind the window and yell at me and threaten me with having the guards come throw me out because “there is no such thing as the emergency travel window”. Huh?

That being said, we also had a few positive encounters. One was the two people who showed up at our house early in the morning to see if we really were married (there had been some mixup with an appointment that they called us to and then told us not to come to). They were perfectly polite and professional. Also the guy who processed our case in the end was helpful and, well, treated us quite humanely (it’s a longer story, but he was quite our hero one Friday afternoon…).

So, I still curse about the idiocy of the process, but some of the people working there really are “good people”…

– ask

— comment by Ask Bjørn Hansen on April 3rd, 2007 at 4:45pm JST (10 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

I spent a number of long, long waits on the INS lines in NYC while applying for Chinami’s green card. For one of them we simply slept in the car and arrived on (the already quite long) line at 4 am. Outside, in January. For the thousands of people, there was one translator of Spanish, and no Chinese translators.

At one of our call backs for an “appointment” (not really appointment, they just told us to show up on a particular day), the notice came on a Wednesday afternoon, for a Friday morning “appointment”. That in itself might have been okay, except that it was the Wednesday immediately prior to Thanksgiving.

Eventually she got her 3-year conditional green card. Trying to remove the conditions after the 3 years expired took several years of requesting appointments and being told to wait (of course, if she wanted to visit Japan during that time she’d have to go to INS to get a special stamp). This is probably one thing that 9/11 sped up — within a couple of months of 9/11 we received a request to come in for an interview. At that point our oldest son Kai was one and a half, so the interview went rather quickly.

Anyone who wants to navigate the American immigration process smoothly should do so in a less-used state, like New Hampshire or Iowa. The officials there will be far more attentive, and the lines shorter. Of course, those aren’t good places for illegal immigrants, as the extra attention will mean any small error will be noticed and investigated.

— comment by Sam on April 3rd, 2007 at 10:55pm JST (10 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

I am not a big fan of INS (USCIS as they are called now). However, there are somethings you have to keep in mind.
– More people want to come to USA than anywhere else
– As a country USA has a very friendly immigration policy compared to a lot of the countries across the world.
– More people actually come to US to live(temporarily and/or permanently) every year compared to any other country (exclude tourists).

Overall, I agree that USCIS should treat aliens (this includes me) better. But, it’s unfair to compare USCIS with Japan. I doubt Japan has such a liberal immigration policy or population desiring to go there. I would even doubt, if the people in that country are as welcoming to immigrants as people in the US are.

— comment by Ravi Dronamraju on April 4th, 2007 at 9:29am JST (10 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink

Congratulations! Next year submit the application for Permanent Residency and be done with it for life.

— comment by Roppongi Richard on April 10th, 2007 at 3:16pm JST (10 years, 8 months ago) comment permalink
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