A. Why Are Visas Necessary?

In principle, foreigners wishing to enter Japan (with the exception of shipping and airline crews) are required to apply at an overseas Japanese diplomatic establishment (embassy or consulate) for a visa to be stamped in or attached to their passport valid for travel to Japan.

Under Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (hereafter referred to as the Immigration Control Act), it is stipulated that any foreigner wishing to enter or land in Japan must possess a valid passport and a visa obtained from an embassy or consulate. In other words, when foreigners apply to an Immigration Inspector (immigration officer) at a port of entry or departure (hereafter referred to as a port of entry) of an airport or seaport for an examination for landing, one of the conditions that they must meet is possession of a valid visa.

Accordingly, if a foreigner does not possess the necessary visa, in principle he or she is not granted permission to enter Japan.

B. Characteristics of a Visa

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs receives many inquiries about visas, such as, "What is a visa?", "How should I go about obtaining a visa?", and "Are there any obstacles to entering and residing in Japan even after obtaining a visa?" Also, the ministry receives quite a few inquiries and even complaints from people who confuse the visa issued by an embassy or consulate and the landing permission (or status of residence permission) granted by an immigration officer belonging to the Ministry of Justice. These people ask such questions as, "How can I extend my visa?" (meaning status of residence permission) and "I cannot understand why my application for a visa extension has been rejected" (again, they mean status of residence permission). Often problems seem to occur at the time of entry into Japan because of inadequate knowledge or misunderstanding. We hope that this pamphlet will increase your understanding of Japan's visa system and assist in preventing these problems.

1. What is a visa?

On the basis of the Law for the Establishment of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visas granted by the Japanese Government are issued only by embassies or consulates under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A visa cannot be acquired after arriving in Japan.

A visa is a recommendation that a foreigner should be allowed to enter Japan. In other words, it is a kind of certificate

issued by the ambassador or consul verifying that the foreigner's passport is genuine and valid and that the application for a stay in Japan for the purpose and period indicated on the visa has been deemed appropriate.

To repeat, a visa itself does not guarantee landing (status of residence) permission. Possession of a visa is one condition for application for landing at an airport or seaport.

Although there are some countries that do accept a visa as a guarantee of landing permission, most countries, like Japan, adopt a system which requires permission from immigration authorities as well as a visa.

2. What is landing permission?

Landing permission is stamped in a foreigner's passport by immigration officers at the airport or seaport where he or she goes through immigration procedures. It is completely different from a visa. It is this landing permission, not a visa, that serves as the legal basis for the foreigner's stay in Japan. A visa is only a recommendation and does not automatically guarantee landing permission.

When a foreigner wishing to enter Japan arrives at an airport or seaport in Japan, he or she first of all has to apply to an immigration officer for landing permission. The immigration officer will check the validity of the foreigner's passport, the existence of a visa when necessary, the validity of the visa, the purpose of entering Japan, the scheduled period of stay, and so on. Landing permission will be granted only if all the conditions stipulated in the Immigration Control Act, including those being checked by the immigration officer, are met.

The stamp of landing permission states not only the date and port of entry but also the status of residence (often referred to as immigration status) of the foreigner, which determines the activities in which that foreigner is permitted to engage in Japan and the term of residence of his or her immigration status.

The receipt of landing permission is a prerequisite for any future applications at a regional immigration authority in Japan for a specific purpose, such as extension of term of residence or change of status of residence. Any such applications must be made at the nearest regional immigration authority to the applicant's place of residence in Japan.

When an immigration officer at the port of entry completes an examination for landing and grants landing permission, the visa immediately becomes invalid (although multiple visas remain valid until the date of their expiration). After that, it is the landing permission that serves as the legal basis for the foreigner's stay in Japan.