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Tuesday, Sep. 4, 2012
Self-sponsored visas: a passport to freedom or a world of pain?
In response to our July 31 column, "How would changing jobs affect my visa?" S.E. asks: "I have heard of foreigners sponsoring their own visa, but is this true? If so, how can I go about this?"
Yes, it is possible to sponsor your own visa, if you meet several conditions and provide the right documentation.
One way to go about this is to start your own business and obtain an "investor/business manager" visa. You don't need a college degree or diploma, but you will need ¥5 million capital, as well as a detailed business plan and other documentation, all of which you can read about here, next to "Investor/Business Manager": www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/Table3-1.html.
You can also sponsor yourself by doing freelance work or multiple part-time jobs, although the type of work should all fall under the same visa category. Tomohide Koh, administrative lawyer at Office Cosmopolitan, which assists expats with immigration procedures, says that in addition to the investor/business manager visa, the following visa types can qualify for self-sponsorship: artist, journalist, researcher, engineer, specialist in humanities/international services, and skilled labor. You'll need to prove that you can make at least ¥3 million a year, typically by showing work contracts you have with companies or individuals.
Typically, a university degree is required for self-sponsorship but, Kyohei Niitsu, immigration lawyer at Niitsu Legal Visa Office, adds, "If they have a certain career for at least three years, such as being a translator, interpreter, language teacher or web designer (excluding engineer work, which requires 10 years of experience), among other occupations, they have the qualifications to obtain a working visa without a degree."
Long-term contracts are generally better, as Mr. Koh advises that "it is important to show credibility and consistency of your activities through contracts or other means." However, he also emphasized that your potential income is the most important factor. If you plan to work with individuals, such as by teaching private lessons, you can arrange contracts with your clients.
Not having a contract will make your application process more difficult, but not impossible, providing you can somehow prove that you actually do the work you say you'll do and that it generates income.
Once you've gathered the necessary paperwork, take the documents with you to a nearby immigration office and apply for an "extension of status" or "change of status" to your visa. Mr. Niitsu also suggests that "you should declare that you will start your own freelance business to the tax office."
"You'll get a certificate of freelance, called a kojin jigyō no kaigyō todokede, which is important for your visa inspection," he adds.
It is also possible to apply for a self-sponsored visa from abroad, according to Mr. Koh, "if a company that has a contract with the applicant can be a proxy and submit the application."
First, though, he says, "You need to apply for a certificate of eligibility. After receiving the COE you can obtain a visa at the nearest Japanese embassy or consulate."
Tracey Yamamoto was able to self-sponsor her specialist in humanities/international services visa after she finished a two-year stint working with a large English conversation school chain. She arranged three part-time teaching jobs at a junior high school, high school and the YMCA, and brought contracts from each to Immigration stating that she was working for them, her work hours and the pay (about ¥250,000 a month in total). Her visa was approved in four weeks.
However, she did experience some trouble at first.
"The first time I went was difficult, not because of the visa I wanted but simply due to the staff not being helpful, and they didn't really seem to know what was going on," she explained. "I had checked with a friend in Osaka (I live in Wakayama) who assured me self-sponsored visas were not that difficult to get after she had confirmed this with Immigration in Osaka, as long as you have legitimate contracts. The staff in Wakayama were notorious for being difficult, but thankfully that isn't the case now."
So if you try to pursue a self-sponsored visa and run into problems, Tracey has some words of advice: "If the staff are difficult, don't give up! Try another immigration office if you have to."
@tonyinosaka used to self-sponsor his visa before becoming a permanent resident, and he says getting the visa was easy. "They required contracts from the universities I taught at showing my salary, and also a paper from the ward/city office verifying I'd paid taxes."
If you would like a professional to help you prepare the paperwork and navigate the bureaucracy, you might consider hiring an immigration lawyer, though you can also opt to do it all yourself, as Tracey and @tonyinosaka did.
As for the time frame, assuming you have all the paperwork you need, it can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to complete the process.