Settling Down: A Guide to Japanese Residency and Nationalization
As many of you will know, I love Japan. I’ve spent 7 of the last 10 years of my life here and I hope I can spend many more here. In fact, about 6 months ago, I came to a realization.
I had just celebrated my 31st Birthday, and, to use a well-worn cliché, it dawned on me that “I’m not a kid anymore.” With each year that passes, more and more of my primary school and high school friends are settling down, getting married, having kids and so on.
As far as life goals go, it seems I’ve fallen a bit behind the curve as it were.
Perhaps one reason for this, has been my somewhat transient lifestyle. In the last 10 years, I have lived in 7 different cities. I’ve been from Glasgow Edinburgh, to Tokyo, to Chiba, Okayama, Hong Kong and finally Osaka.
Perhaps it’s time for me to settle down.
I’ve realized that, given the limits of my influence, my finances and my intelligence, chances are I will never be a millionaire, but that again I don’t think I necessarily want to be one. Life is pretty good right now. I enjoy my work, I enjoy my writing and I have a small but solid group of friends around me. Osaka has become my home.
So how can I, as a foreigner, go about formalizing that arrangement? As someone who was born and has, thus far, spent the majority of my life outside of Japan, how could I attain either permanent residency or even, perhaps someday, Japanese nationality?
The route is long and somewhat complicated. Perhaps today we can take the first tentative steps to try and navigate it together?
First of all, it’s important to consider your own circumstances and what you want from the future. Are you absolutely sure that you want to settle in Japan permanently? Could you really sever all formal ties with your country of birth?
For me, the decision has become somewhat easier. First, my country of birth, Scotland, against my hopes, rejected the chance for self-determination, after voting against formal independence last year in a referendum.
This was further compounded a few weeks ago, when the Conservative party of the UK, riding a wave of right-wing anti-Scottish racism in the media, was elected to govern with a majority in the UK parliament.
I’ve never felt British, and after recent events, I don’t really feel Scottish either.
The land of my birth has chosen to follow a path I cannot follow, it has chosen to reject the chance to control its own future and to continue to be controlled by people with little interest in the welfare of ordinary working people.
Anyway, political diatribes aside, apart from my family, who I can still visit, and who can visit me too, I feel no connection to Scotland whatsoever. In the years I have spent in Japan, I have developed a far greater affinity with this country and its people than I ever felt with Scotland. In short, I feel more Japanese than I do Scottish.
So, once you’ve decided for sure that you want to settle in Japan, there are 2 options open to you to secure long term residency. Your eligibility for each of these will vary depending on your country of origin.
Before I begin, I would advise you that if you are seriously considering applying for any of these considerations, it would be a good idea to hire an immigration lawyer. Such processes are extremely complicated and what I tell you today is only a very rough guide.
Your first option is to apply for permanent residency. In order to qualify for permanent residency, there are some basic criteria that need to be met.
- You need to be a person of “good conduct.” In other words, if you’ve ever robbed a bank, punched a policeman or committed any other crime in Japan, you can forget about applying for PR!
- Secondly, you need to show that you have sufficient finances to maintain your life in Japan. Having a stable job, a record of consistent and timely tax payments and being able to prove you can function independent of support are all essential criteria here.
- The third criteria is perhaps, on the face of it, the most difficult. In principle, you need to have lived in Japan for 10 consecutive years, and maintained a stable job as well as following the law, paying your taxes and not doing anything to “disrupt the social harmony of Japan.”
10 years can seem like a really long time, but there are possible ways around this.
Firstly, if you are fortunate enough to marry a Japanese national during your time here, then you can apply for permanent residency after 3 years of marriage, provided you have also lived together in Japan for at least 1 year.
Secondly, if you are a refugee, and your status has been recognized by the Japanese government and you have lived here for at least 5 years as a refugee then you are also eligible.
The third option is very much open to interpretation in different ways and is at the Japanese government’s discretion. If you are seen to have made a “significant contribution to Japan” in a diplomatic, social, economic or cultural context, then you are eligible for consideration for PR after 5 years of continuous residency in Japan.
Please be aware though, that to qualify for this, you need to have made a high level contribution, such as winning a national award for your work. Having high level figures such as government officials or senior managers of larger corporations supporting your application could also help you in this regard. Full details of the criteria are available on the government website: www.immi-moj.go.jp
Of course if you feel PR is still too restrictive and you feel ready to go all the way and sign up to all the same rights and responsibilities as your Japanese friends, then you could apply for a Japanese passport.
This process is actually, on the surface at least, easier to qualify for than PR.
Unlike PR, to qualify for a Japanese passport, one need only reside in Japan for 5 years. Additionally, you must be at least 20 years old, mentally competent, with a history of good behavior.
Like PR you also need to prove that you have a sufficient job or capital to finance your life in Japan, and finally, perhaps the deal-breaker, you need to be willing to renounce your current nationality.
Unlike the UK and various other nations, Japan does not allow dual-nationality. If you decide to become Japanese, you need to renounce all other nationalities.
Although the qualifying criteria looks simpler than applying for PR, the actually process by which you acquire Japanese nationality is a long one. It involves 3 stages.
- First you need to gather, complete and submit all the necessary documents to the Ministry of Justice. Naturally, this must all be done in Japanese.
- Next, an interview will be scheduled for about one or two months after all the documentation has been submitted. The interview will have both a spoken and written section, and again it will be entirely in Japanese. The applicant needs to prove they can communicate comfortably, and unassisted, in Japanese in order for the application to be approved. The types of questions asked at the interview will revolve around the forms you have submitted and your reasons why you wish to become a Japanese national.
You may or may not be asked to complete a written test after the interview. Don’t worry too much about this though, as the level required is equivalent to elementary school second grade. If you have already passed the JLPT N4 or N3 exam, it shouldn’t be a problem for you.
- The final stage is for all your completed documents and interview papers to be sent to the ministry of justice in Tokyo for final approval. The entire process takes about 8-10 months from your initial application. Of course this can take longer for certain applicants.
This time around, I’ve only been in Japan for 2 years so far, (my time in Hong Kong means my visa renewals were not consecutive) so I guess I have to wait a while before I can take the next step in my commitment to this country I call my home.
In the meantime, it’s back to the Japanese textbooks for me. Better learn to speak the language before I ask for a passport!