The right to reside
As I mentioned a while ago one of the things that is meant to make buying property easier in Japan, when one is an alien, is having permanent residency. I didn’t have it when we started the process so, in the spirit of… well, applying, I applied for it. Now this may sound easy, but it is not – actually it is easy to apply but it is a pain in the arse to get everything done for the application.
Now as we know the Japanese as a race love bureaucracy as much as, no, more than, the next nation state, and usually this means that as long as you follow the guidelines and tick all the boxes you should be fine. However the Immigration bureau didn’t sign up to this and to call them capricious would be to describe Usain Bolt as ‘quite fast’. This is not just me, by the way, anyone who has had any dealings with immigration feels the same way and phrases such as ‘case by case’ and ‘depends who you get on the day’ and ‘what a bunch of shysters’ are often heard after a trip of one of their offices.
So, I know that we have to get the required forms, some bits of paper from the town hall to prove I pay my taxes, copy of the marriage certificate, pay slips and other stuff, but then there’s the ‘extras’. Permanent residency is sort of the holy grail of ‘visas’ (it’s not really a visa, it is permission to reside, which is different apparently), so they don’t give them out willy-nilly. If, for example, I wasn’t married to the Guru and/or have a 3.5 yr old progeny running around (and making a lot of noise) then the basic requirement for PR would be 10 years continuous residence and having made a ‘significant contribution to society’ which by the look of it means being a Nobel laureate in pro-Japanese propaganda, or something, so they take it quite seriously. Luckily, if you’re married to a Japanese personage and your contribution to society consists of a 3.5 yr old noisy child then apparently this is on a par with Nobelhood (and thank goodness for that).
So anyway, back to the application. Before submitting the documents we did some research, of course – in one of the Japan forums I participate in there was a plethora of advice, most of it consisting of information like, ‘submit the stuff they ask for and then add…’ some of the stuff they suggest to add sounded quite useful, like degree certificates and references, others quite strange, like a map from your local train/tube station to your house. But then again when we did the spouse visa application we had to submit some daft stuff, like photos of us together, a report on how we met, that sort of thing, so you shouldn’t be surprised. One of the most amusing bits of advice was from a bloke who described the PR application process along these lines – ‘what the bloke dealing with your application does is get your file and start taking bits of paper out, like the application form. He won’t read what’s on the paper, he will just place it on the desk in front of him. He will do this until he has put all the pieces of paper on the desk. If, when he has finished, he cannot see any of the desk uncovered by paper, your application will be approved; if an area equivalent to one piece of A4 is uncovered, he will read your application and decide. If more than one piece of A4 of the desk is uncovered, your application will be rejected.’
So, off we trooped to the Saitama immigration office in May to submit the application. I took along the necessaries and a selection of the optional extras (with full intent on providing sufficient desk coverage). Up came our number and so I started to have over everything – as soon as I started the chap said ‘oh, permanent residency’ as if he were a little surprised – perhaps not the sort of thing that usually happens in Saitama. Once I had given the necessaries I started on the extras, the chap looked a bit bemused when I gave him the map of the station/apartment, but when I brought out the degree certificates he started to look panicked, saying “no, no, we don’t need all this stuff, the application form will do” and started to hand stuff back to me – very odd, I thought, don’t you want to ask me to name all the prefectures of Japan, I have memorised them…? But no, just the docs, as it were.
So, “how long will ask this take?” was the next question; “well, about 6 months to a year, so if you haven’t heard from us by June 2009 then reapply for your spouse visa anyway, just in case” was the response – a whole year!? What are they going to do, genealogy and DNA testing? Probably, is possibly the answer, and I wouldn’t have put it past them. So that was it, really, all we had to do then was wait.
And wait we did, until the end of November when, low and behold, the application was approved. A colleague of mine from the Philippines, who has PR, said his application took a year to complete and whilst it was going on immigration contacted his landlord and his then current and his previous employer, to check he was legit. As far as I can tell there were no checks done on me like that (as, for one our landlord is a right old gossip and if immigration had called him he would have been straight round to us; and two, if they had contacted my employer they would probably have ended up speaking to me as that sort of HR thing would probably end up on my desk). But for us it was almost exactly 6 months to the day since we made our application.
Now, after all the palaver of applying I was expecting a little ceremony or something when I went back to the immigration office to get the stamp put into my passport, but, disappointingly, there was nothing – no ceremonial stamping, no handshake from the branch director, no word of congratulations from the immigration minister, not even a photographer from the local paper to record the happy event. Just a ‘here you go, and don’t forget to go to your town hall and update your alien registration card’, which I duly did a couple of weeks later.
If all that seems like a bit of an anti-climax, rest assured it was for me too. But the good news is that I got it and so I don’t now have to go back and get a new visa ever three years as this one lasts, in theory, forever. But I do need to get a re-entry permit, which does only last for three years, which is the government’s way of… sorry, another government way of making money from foreigners. And gaining it didn’t make any difference to buying property as we’ve already bought it; oh well…