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I am looking for academic jobs and Japan came up as one potential possibility. I am in the USA now and my visa is tied to my work here, meaning that when my appointment is up, I need to leave. There might be a gap of a couple of months between the end of my current appointment and the start of the appointment in Japan. For various reasons it would be strongly preferable for me to go directly to Japan from the USA instead of spending that gap in another country.

Is this possible? Is it at all legally possible to go directly to Japan on a tourist visa, then change status while there? If possible, is it relatively easy or common to do so? Or is trying to do this likely to lead to significant bureaucratic complications? (I am aware that in the USA trying to do something like this is not recommended and risky, but I have absolutely no idea about Japan.)

More details on my situation:

  • I am married. I can stay 90 days visa-free in Japan, but my spouse does need a visa. The question applies to both of us.
  • In this question I'm not interested in discussing staying in a third country during the gap.
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The procedure to change your status of residence while in Japan is described here (so the first thing to note is that there is such a procedure at all, so it is possible to at least apply to have your status changed).

When you enter Japan for a short-term stay, as with a tourism visa or with a visa-free 90 days landing permission, your status is "Temporary Visitor". This status is special in that, among other things, one of the conditions which is required by law if you want to change your status of residence to something else is that you must have "exceptional and unavoidable circumstances" (see link above).

The good news is that this law seems to be quite loosely enforced currently: a simple Google search will show you countless blog or forum posts by people who applied to change their status from TV to something else, and who were successful. However, there does seem to be the occasional official who is zealous in applying the law, and who will reject your application, sometimes right on the spot. I don't think there are any statistics about status changes, so it is difficult to estimate how often this happens, but by all accounts it seems to be rare.

In any case, it is not complicated: go to your local Immigration bureau with the necessary paperwork, you should find out very quickly in which case the official in front of you falls. Then if you're not rejected on the spot, consider it a good sign but keep your fingers crossed waiting for a decision.

  • 1
    Usually you get a Certificate of Eligibility from your employer, which you can then use to apply for your visa. When you first had to go to Japan to apply for a job, then this should fall under "unavoidable circumstances". When I did this, my "exceptional circumstance" was that I wanted to do a language course before I start working, and the visa wouldn't have been long enough for the work I wanted to do had I done this on the visa. And no one asked anyway. They didn't even frown at me or express in any way that this was no standard procedure. – fifaltra Oct 2 '15 at 5:26
  • @fifaltra Did you get a student Visa to attend the language school, or did you convert from temporary visitor to work visa? How long did it take you to find a job? – Tobia Aug 11 '17 at 16:55
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    @Tobia I converted from temporary visitor to work visa when I started working. I already had a job offer before coming to Japan, I just had them give the Certificate of Eligibility to me when I got there instead of mailing it to me. (Usually you would get your Certificate of Eligibility via mail, then go to your local embassy to apply for your visa, then go to Japan) – fifaltra Aug 21 '17 at 21:47
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When my company hired a Chinese person earlier this year, they applied for a working permit and visa for her before she come here to Japan.

So if you're going to look for a job after you come here, it might be easier for you to have your company apply for you.

Once you get your visa, your spouse can apply for a "spouse of long term resident" visa.

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    Thanks for the response, but this doesn't really answer my question. I'm afraid I didn't phrase it clearly. My question was: is it possible to change status while in Japan on a tourist visa instead of getting a researcher's visa before arriving to Japan. If not, I would be forced to go from USA -> Country X -> Japan, move all my stuff twice instead of once, and go through all kinds of other trouble I don't want to go into details about. I would strongly prefer to avoid a double move. – Barbur Dec 22 '14 at 17:07
  • Well, it is really a gamble if you don't have a job offer, and planning to find a job while you're staying in Japan on your short term visa. There is no guarantee. But I can tell you that it is really difficult to change visa status from temporary to long term. You have a very small time frame for searching for a job, going to interviews, waiting for the results, to be accepted, to prepare all the paperwork and apply. Let alone there will be very few places that will consider to hire you without a working visa. Most of the companies require you to already have a long term/working visa. – BurakUeda Dec 22 '14 at 18:14
  • No, you misunderstood again. Also, it's not a company job, as I said it's an academic one, it's settled and there's no job search involved. Assume position in country A ends on June 1, but position in country B (guaranteed) starts on Aug 1. There's a gap of 2 months inbetween. Work visa in country A ends on June 1, work visa in country B can only start on Aug 1. There's 2 months' worth of visa problem right in the middle. – Barbur Dec 22 '14 at 18:28
  • In that case why can't the people hiring you in Japan start to process beforehand? I am not a Japanese immigration law specialist, but they can invite you as a Specialist in Humanities/International Services, which will also be your visa status. There is some info in MOFA's website here: mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/faq.html – BurakUeda Dec 22 '14 at 18:48

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