A few people like to point out that the JLPT doesn’t have an official purpose. For example, you don’t need to take it to get into most universities, there is usually a separate test for that. You also don’t need it to get most jobs (although having N1 tends to get you noticed). I have heard some people needing to take the JLPT for graduate programs though. However, for less formal schools, like language skills, you can usually test out of it or have an oral interview.
But a fairly new system for obtaining a permanent residency that is based on a point system actually uses the JLPT as part of the criteria for getting a permanent residency. This is actually pretty smart and cool, not something that a lot of immigration agency are known for.
A permanent residency visa (or PR for short) is really handy to have too. It allows you to stay in Japan indefinitely. Well, unless you do something stupid. It also eliminates all restrictions on work. Other kinds of visas, like a Humanities Visa (typical for teachers) restricts you to certain professions. Although, honestly speaking, there are ways of getting around that.
You also get to take out a house loan (as long as you are paying into the national health care system). So, if you are going to be spending a long period of time in Japan and want to buy a house, a PR will help you out there.
Oh, and you also get to stand in the special line at immigration for citizens.
The Standard Way of Getting a PR
There seems to be a lot of confusion as to how to get a PR. Last year, I went through the whole process and when I went to do some research on the topic I had a hard time piecing everything together. The immigration department website makes it sound like you have to be some kind of superman to get in. And other sources are often times a bit inaccurate as well.
The whole thing is actually pretty straightforward unless you want to get in under some special circumstances. Generally speaking, if you have been living in Japan for 10 years and are in good standing you’ll get accepted. If you been married for 3 years to a Japanese Citizen, you can get a PR as well. That’s the general rule.
And the paperwork for the whole process is relatively painless. If I remember correctly it involves a couple page application form that includes things like where you went to school and numbers/addresses of all your immediate family members. They also require you to write an essay about why you want a PR, which can actually be in English or Japanese. Then, you just need a ton of documents from city hall. There are just some things to watch out for.
If you are not married to a Japanese citizens you have to be working in Japan for 10 years. So, if you had a student visa and then later got a job, the time spent here on the student visa doesn’t count. I also believe those years have to be continuous or you at least have to have a good reason why they aren’t (you went back to school or something).
If you are married to a Japanese citizen and want to move to Japan, you can get a spousal visa, work with that for a few years and then get a PR. They love kids, too (because it shows the marriage is stable). So, if you are married with kids in Japan, you are pretty much guaranteed a PR, as long as you are in good standing.
In my case, I applied for my PR and got it in about 4 months despite being told it would take 6 months by immigration. When I applied, I had been married for 3 years, living in Japan for 8, and our daughter had been born.
Getting a New ‘Preferential Treatment’ Visa
Japan wants to attract more talented workers to its country because there seems to be a shortage of them at the moment due to the whole low birth rate thing. So, they have gradually started to be nicer to foreigners in hopes that they will get more immigrants. The only problem is, due to political malaise, laws are a bit difficult to pass at the moment. So, immigration has started getting a little creative.
One of those moves is to create a new preferential treatment system to get a visa. It is based on a point system that you can find here. There are 3 tracks and they are all fairly difficult to get into – academic research activity, advanced specialized/technical activity, and business management activity.
All have different requirements and specific things they are looking for, but basically they are looking for young highly trained professionals and experienced business management staff.
Note that passing the JLPT N1 gives you 10 points in any category, which gives you an extra leg up. I’m starting to see the JLPT pop up here and there with immigration, which is good to see. Japan definitely needs to encourage more immigration, but it helps if those who come into the country share certain traits with those that are already here, like say being able to use Japanese.
The good thing about this visa is that it allows you some extra benefits that regular visa holders don’t have. For example, you are able to get a visa for your parents, which even PR holders aren’t able to do (actually this visa is the only way). And you are allowed to apply for your PR after just 4.5 years.
The main disadvantage is that this visa is tied to your job. If you lose or quit your job, you’ll have to re-apply for the visa when you get a new job. Other visa holders don’t have these restrictions. For example, if you came over on a humanities (translation, teaching, etc…) visa you can switch jobs as long as the new job falls under that category. And PR holders have no restrictions.
A Move in the Right Direction
Immigration is always a tricky topic no matter what country you are in. Japan needs workers, but I could see where a completely open door would create more problems than it solves. To make matters worse, the government is unable to really do much of anything at the moment with laws.
What do you think? Should immigration be more lax? What are your experiences with visas? I’d love to know about them. Let me know in the comments.