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Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2006
THE ZEIT GIST
Permanent visa can relieve pension pain
Community page readers' queries, comments and more on PR
By BARRY BROPHY
One of many foreign residents' biggest gripes about Japan is the requirement that they must pay into the Japanese pension system for as long as they work here, even though they won't stay long enough to receive any benefits. Permanent residency can help to side-step the issue without obliging somebody to work here for the 25-year minimum needed to collect a pension later.
The "karakikan" system, which is applied to permanent residents as well as Japanese citizens, allows for time spent abroad to be included in the 25-year requirement for receiving a pension, although time worked abroad is not counted when calculating the amount of benefits.
In theory, then, a foreign resident who pays into the Japanese pension system for 10 years, becomes a permanent resident, and then works overseas for the next 15 years while returning to Japan only to renew their re-entry permits will receive a pension from Japan.
There is a drawback, however. Foreigners who have contributed to the Japanese pension system for six months or longer and who leave Japan permanently before they have paid into the system for 25 years are entitled to a partial refund, known as the Lump Sum Withdrawal payment. The amount is based on the amount of time, up to three years, that somebody has paid into the system.
Permanent residents cannot collect this refund.
By becoming a permanent resident you don't lose this Lump Sum Payment -- you simply can't apply for it. Only those who have left Japan permanently, not chosen to stay permanently are eligible. In order to receive the payment, permanent residency must be relinquished.
Meanwhile, having been granted permanent residence a couple of years ago, reader Steve has been concerned ever since about ensuring that he not jeopardize it by overlooking any technicalities. "I cannot find any reference to any conditions for keeping permanent residency other than the stipulation that I must renew/purchase a multiple re-entry permit," he says.
"Since there is a chance that I may have to leave Japan for a time due to work, I'm worried that this will affect his permanent residency."
Permanent residents must, like nonpermanent residents, get re-entry permits before they leave the country for any period of time. However, this is the only stated requirement for permanent residents to hold onto the status.
Moreover, anybody who has left Japan on a re-entry permit (which is for a maximum of three years) and is unable to return before the end of the permit's period of validity can apply at the nearest Japanese Embassy for an extension.
Noel, a U.S. citizen, is married to a Japanese. Every three years he applies for a visa as the spouse of a Japanese citizen and is wondering about the pros and cons of permanent residency.
Put simply, there are no cons. Moreover, foreign residents married to a Japanese person are usually granted permanent residency far more quickly than those who are not. Ministry of Justice "guidelines" state only that a foreign resident with Japanese spouse should have lived in Japan for three years prior to applying for PR status.
On this subject, reader Mel wonders, if she if she can apply for permanent residency even if she divorces her Japanese husband.
In the case that a divorce is likely or pending, somebody should never wait for the proceedings to be finalized before applying for permanent residency. Those with spousal visas can expect to be fast-tracked for permanent status.
Furthermore, permanent residency can only be applied for by somebody with a visa valid for the at least the duration of the application process. If the spousal visa cannot be renewed before PR is finalized then their application will not be valid.
Steve in Nagoya had no such worries. He went to renew his spousal visa and was encouraged by his local immigration office to apply for permanent residency, which he received only four months later.
Sam writes in to say he has recently acquired permanent resident status and wants to know if he needs to maintain his U.S. passport. "Do I need the passport even if I have a legitimate visa and have no plans to travel internationally for a while," he asks.
In theory, permanent resident holders should also have a valid passport, as their status in Japan does not affect their nationality in any way.
Practically speaking, of course, if somebody's passport has expired but they have no plans to travel for the time being, they need not worry too much about having a new one issued until closer to the time they need to travel as the passport simply becomes a means of identification as opposed to a travel document.
Reader Don also has a legal query. He's a single English teacher in Hiroshima. He's been here for four years and is considering applying for permanent residency. He asks if becoming permanent involves him giving up his current nationality.
Permanent residents do not give up their nationality or citizenship, though in Don's case he may need to wait some time for a successful application as Ministry of Justice guidelines state that foreign residents who are single should have around 10 years in Japan under their belts before they can expect to secure permanent residency.
While the Justice Ministry does say that this figure of 10 years is a guideline, and the conferring of permanent residency status does seem to vary case by case, Greg in Kanagawa has a sobering tale.
"I did not get the impression that the 10-year residency requirement is an approximate guideline," he writes. "It's more like a hard-and-fast rule written in stone."
Gary's first application was turned down because his two stays in Japan of 9 1/2 years each were deemed insufficient. His last application, made on the 10th anniversary of his arrival in Japan, was successful.
Naturalized Japanese Sepp has a slightly different take on it. As a retired visiting scholar, he was told by the Immigration Bureau that he is basically too old to apply for any visa at all, bar the one-year Cultural Activities visa, which is designed for only short stays. The immigration office advised him instead to apply for citizenship and dispatched him with a map to the Justice Ministry.
Having already spent five years in Japan, Sepp had to wait just six more months before he was granted citizenship.
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