Can the JLPT help you get a Japanese Visa?

Can the JLPT help you get a Japanese Visa? post image

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.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Artur Hopp October 5, 2013, 3:48 pm

    High-entry-barriers are a good thing in general. Especially a country with major problems (financial, demographic, social) should take a good watch over it´s new citizens. In Germany, immigration works way to lax. We have a growing social class of unproduktive, german-hating, on wellfare living freeloaders. Our government demonizes words like these as racism. I am some kind of migrant myself. My family transferred in 1992, when i was 2, from Russia to Germany. They worked hard, adopted into their new society and became a succesful part of it. And that´s the message i want to deliver. As long as someone is willing to adopt into a new culture (and not forcing his own onto the natives like a certain .. well, you know probably) and be a enrichment, he should be welcomed.

    • Clayton MacKnight October 7, 2013, 1:40 pm

      I totally agree. The real problem is assuring this happens. I mean there are a lot of people like myself that would probably make good residents/immigrants (in my highly-biased opinion), but I know plenty of people that seem just like me on paper that wouldn’t be good choices. And might do more harm than good for the culture and society. I just wish there was a way to prove you are hard working and are fairly okay with the culture.

  • Chad October 11, 2013, 8:17 am

    I live in Japan, on a work visa. My wife is a Japanese national who holds a US green card. Having dealt with both systems extensively, I vastly prefer the Japanese system in all respects but three relatively minor ones

    Japan’s advantages

    1: Cheaper. Literally around a fifth the cost for any given interaction

    2: Faster. Visas, permanant residency, etc are processed in around half the time

    3: Freedom to travel. US immigration does not let applicants leave the country while their PR is pending, and once PR is established, throws an epic hissy fit if the PR tries to live abroad. Japan, in contrast, let’s PRs or visa holders leave up to a year with no questions asked, and only requires one to obtain a cheap and automatically-granted re-entry permit for stays abroad up to five years.

    4: Multi-year family visas. The US has nothing like this, leaving you with the choice of nothing, or a green card. With respect to the US, there is no simple way for a multi-national family to bounce back and forth between multiple countries. If you have a green card, they want you in the US and make you jump through all sorts of hoops if you dare leave.

    5: Flexibility. Japan lets you apply from anywhere, generally. The US, in contrast, has all sorts of steps in the process where you either need to be IN the US or outside of it, for no darned good reason. I don’t want to think of how much my family has wasted on USCIS-dictated travel so we could be on the right side of the border when our lawyer put something in the mail.

    6: Simplicity. Who needs a lawyer for Japanese immigration? Virtually no one. Who does for US immigration? Practically everyone!

    7: Intolerance for rule breaking. This is one that just gets my goat. After jerking over those who try to follow its Kafkaesque rules, the US turns around and coddles those who flagrantly violate them (and their employers). Japan, in contrast, generally makes things easy on those who follow the rules and clobbers those who break them. Go figure that I prefer the latter.

    Japan’s disadvantages

    1: Not enough immigrants. Period.

    2: Too high of a tolerance for bigotry and profiling

    3: Too hard to obtain citizenship (read, “darned near impossible”)

    • Clayton MacKnight October 12, 2013, 11:47 pm

      Yeah, we’ve been considering getting a green card, so that my wife can, say, get social security benefits easily if I were to you know die or something, but the nightmare you have to go through to get one is a little ludicrous. I feel like the cronies have infected the immigration system in the States to the point that it isn’t all that usable anymore. Granted, there are probably a lot more people that want into the States than into Japan, but still, for someone married to a citizen?

      I have a co-worker with a green card that has been living in Japan for quite some time, her husband is American, and every time she goes to the states they threaten to take it away, and yell at her for not being in the States. A bit annoying I can imagine.

      I would add one more gripe about the Japanese immigration system though:

      No dual-nationality. This is such a pain, and a weird quirk, considering there is no real way to enforce it. Maybe the law will change though.

  • Andrew October 12, 2013, 1:41 am

    Chad- that is all very informative. My Japanese wife and I live in Japan and we have not yet decided when we will head back to the states for good. If we apply and end up not moving back for 2-3 years (even if we go back every year and still activate the green card) will they take it away and we will have to apply again??

    Mac- the pt visa is all very interesting. I’d love to have visas for my parents one day if at all financially possible.

    Well.. for now back to studying for N1 :/

    • Chad October 14, 2013, 2:04 am

      You can’t get a green card unless you are living in the US. The procedure basically works like this for a K3 spouse visa (my wife and I did K1, fiancée).

      1: Apply for K3 about 6 months before you plan to come to the US. Processing times are usually around five months. Somewhere along the line your wife will have to go to the US consulate for an interview and do a health screening.

      2: After you get your K3, she will have three? months to enter the US.

      3: After she enters the US, she has 90 days to apply for her green card. Note from the time of her arrival, she cannot leave the US without voiding her visa and green card application. She also cannot work legally in the US, as she will not have a work permit. An application for such is usually filed concurrently with your green card application (the former being free in this case), but it won’t process much faster than the green card.

      4: Your wife will get her provisional green card and work permit about 4-5 months later. The provisional green card is good for two years and is dependent on your marriage.

      5: About six months before her provisional card expires, she needs to file to have the conditions on her green card removed and receive a normal (10-year, indefinitely renewable) green card that is not connected to you. You have to prove her connections to the US and your good-faith marriage in order to do this.

      So what happens if you live abroad during this stretch? First, it is extremely bad if, like my wife and I, you move abroad between steps 4 and 5. We are stuck in a repeated series of short-term extensions of her provisional status and re-entry permits, and unable to obtain her non-provisional green card as long as she resides abroad. This requires at least annual trips back to the US together, a times more or less dictated by USCIS, as well as all sorts of legal headaches. Don’t do it. If you want a green card, find a way to spend three years in the US and get through the provisional phase before you leave again.

      Once she has a regular green card, what she would have to do if you wanted to return to Japan together is file for a re-entry permit, which is good for up to two years. If you wanted to stay longer, she would have to go back to the US twice (or once for 4-6 weeks) in order to apply for a new permit. USCIS will normally grant at least two travel permits totaling four years, but beyond that all bets are off.

  • Andrew October 14, 2013, 11:28 pm

    Wow thanks Chad that was all very informative. I guess we need to go ahead and start on our K-3 6 months before we are ready to go back to the states then.

    About how much in total did you end up paying in fees and charges? Did you end up paying a lawyer to help make the process smoother? For the k-3 is that even necessary? Or to start the process can you do most of it on your own from the consulate website.

  • Badz October 26, 2018, 1:49 am

    Iwas a trainee before,ive finished 3 year of being an technical intern,and also passe the japan government exam level 3 ( ginougenteishiken)..can i use my jlpt n3 and govt level 3 exam cert to get any kind of visa?thankyou

    • Clayton MacKnight October 28, 2018, 1:40 pm

      I don’t think so. N1 is the only level that will count towards anything.

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