Virginia, US
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| Alfred Chong

Japanese Immigration – Business and Work Visas Overview

Japan's immigration system has two goals: to permit visitors and immigrants to come to Japan to contribute to the economy and to prevent undesirable foreign nationals from entering the country. Japan's visa program provides for business visits, allowing temporary stays for certain categories of business activity.  
Non-visa nationals, defined as nationals from countries with Visa Exemption Arrangements with Japan, are visa exempt for the purpose of business visits.
Visa nationals, which are nationals of countries without any such exemption arrangement, must obtain a visa prior to traveling to Japan. The immigration system has 27 categories of residency status, each permitting the foreign national to engage in certain specific activities.
Business visa (temporary visitor status)
Business visitors typically hold temporary visitor status.
Activities which are permissible when traveling on this type of visa include:
  • Attending business meetings or discussions;
  • Negotiating or signing contracts;
  • Conducting market research or surveys;
  • Attending classroom or observation-based training;
  • Providing service for machinery, computer software or equipment imported into Japan, provided it is on a post-sales, contractual basis; and
  • Touring or inspecting factories or other facilities.
Maximum stay for business visitors
The maximum stay and mode of entry for business visitors will depend on the visitor’s nationality. Visa nationals from China and India, for example, will need to obtain a Temporary Visitor Visa from the Japanese Embassy or Consulate in their home country prior to travel. Consulates and immigration officers may exercise discretion in determining the length of stay and the number of entries permitted for any visitor, with the validity period for most Temporary Visitor Visas ranging from 15 to 90 days.
Non-visa nationals, such as those visiting from the United States and Canada, can obtain their temporary visitor status on arrival in Japan for business and may stay for up to 90 days per visit. Individuals wishing to extend their visa must do so before the expiry of the 90 day period. In addition, certain non-visa nationals, for example, nationals of Mexico and Germany, are permitted to stay for up to 180 days per visit.
Business visitor restrictions
Despite the broad guidelines laid out by the Japanese Immigration Bureau, it can be easy to miss the finer aspects of the process and to stray into grey areas, which may result in non-compliance with immigration regulations.
Business travelers who engage in allowable business activities may still require work authorization if any of the following conditions apply to their trip, such as when they:
  • Receive compensation from a source in Japan (except for incidental expenses, such as travel, lodging or meal reimbursements);
  • Receive direction, management, feedback or instructions from an entity in Japan;
  • Enter into an employment arrangement with an entity in Japan;
  • Engage in activities that are billable, by either a foreign or Japanese entity;
  • Provide revenue-generating work, including project management or work on any live projects or transactions;
  • Are replacing or covering an existing role in Japan, such as for maternity or sick leave or to cover a recent resignation;
  • Are providing on-the-job training, unless it is provided in support of the installation of important devices or systems; or
  • Are undertaking any activities that are in line with day-to-day employment.
Should any such conditions apply, it is important the company reviews the circumstances on a case-by-case basis and seeks further guidance.
Work visa
Foreign nationals who wish to work in Japan must obtain a work visa from a Japanese Embassy or Consulate outside the country in order to enter Japan on a status of residence permitting work. There are different status categories, each allowing the holder to work only in a specific professional field. For example, journalism, arts, research, education, engineering, entertainment, business management and international services each require a different status of residence.
The most common work-permitting status of residence categories are:
  • Engineer / Specialist in Humanities / International Services: A university degree relevant to the job duties or at least 10 years’ professional experience in the relevant field is required. The activities to be conducted must require industrial techniques or skills belonging to special fields.
  • Intra-company Transferee: Applicable to foreign nationals who have worked at the sending entity for at least one year prior to being transferred and whose job duties are of a professional nature.
  • Business Managers: Applicable to investors who are opening a new business entity in Japan, or for senior executives who work in very high-level positions.
If the foreign national changes jobs while in Japan and the new job falls into a different professional field­­­­ -­­ from education to engineering, for example - the foreign national must change their status of residence.
It is a requirement for any foreign national wanting to work in Japan to have a prospective employer as a sponsor. Residence status is granted for periods between 3 months and 5 years and can be extended upon application.
Minimum salary requirements
A minimum salary requirement is based on the prevailing wage of Japanese nationals in the same field. From an immigration standpoint, JPY 200,000 per month is the minimum required in order to process a work permit. Note that there may also be other non-immigration minimum salary requirements under relevant Labor Law regulations. For example, the foreign national employee’s salary must be equal to a Japanese worker's salary. The Immigration Bureau is primarily concerned with ensuring that the employee has sufficient funds to support his or her stay whilst in Japan.
Certificate of Eligibility (COE) application
Prior to applying for a work visa, an application for a COE must be filed at the Immigration Bureau. Any information provided in the application, including that relating to dependents, must be accurate and truthful. If the foreign national has any previous application, they need to ensure that the information provided is consistent with any provided previously. They must also be mindful that the Immigration Bureau reviews the applicant’s criminal records and immigration records, including the number of entries into Japan, their latest stay, employment history and more. Any false, misleading or inconsistent information may lead to a delay in processing or possibly the outright rejection of the application, and may expose the foreign national and sponsoring company to penalties.
Notification of changes
Foreign nationals holding a residence card are required to notify the Immigration Bureau within 14 days of any change to their:
  • Name;
  • Gender;
  • Nationality; or
  • Employer.
Additionally, foreign nationals are also required to notify the local ward office within 14 days of any change to their residential address.
Penalties for non-compliance
The Immigration Act sets out strict guidelines which must be followed by both foreign nationals and sponsoring companies alike.
Employers found encouraging or practicing illegal employment can be fined up to JPY 3 million and/or imprisoned for up to three years.
A foreign national found violating their immigration status may be deported and barred from re-entering the country for up to ten years. They may also face a fine of up to JPY 3 million and/or imprisonment for up to three years.
Failure to notify the Immigration Bureau within 14 days of changes in personal information or employer may result in a fine of up to JPY 200,000. Similarly, providing false information to the Immigration Bureau may result in a jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to JPY 200,000, as stipulated by the Immigration Act.
Foreign nationals must notify the ward office within 14 days of any change of address or risk a fine of up to JPY 200,000. Should more than 90 days elapse before notification has been received, it may also result in the cancellation of residential status. Providing false information regarding a residential address may result in a jail term of up to one year or a fine of up to JPY 200,000, and may also result in the cancellation of the foreign national’s residential status.
Additionally, failure to notify the ward office within 14 days of the change or providing false information to the ward office without justifiable reason may result in an administrative fine of up to JPY 50,000.