To the Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: April 2003

Surprisingly, the Japanese immigration system is somewhat looser toward entering foreign nationals than the US system.

by Makoto Kuroda Apton

We received this letter from the author of A Japanese Visa Handbook in response to a column by our publisher, Terrie Lloyd, on

The Japanese visa book you mentioned in your column is my third book and my first in English. My first book was American Visa Manual (a US visa guidebook for the Japanese). The US visa book was easier to write for me because I and many of my friends have experienced the annoying procedures (I have been in New York for 14 years). Also, US immigration law is much more detailed. I can't call it logical or well thought out, though.

When an editor of ICG Muse came up with the Japanese visa book idea, I had no idea about Japanese visas. To write the US visa book, I started by interviewing immigration lawyers because everybody went to them with their questions. In contrast, there is no common way to know the Japanese immigration system. I learned about Japanese immigration laws through books, government Web sites and by interviewing immigration officers and non-Japanese people in Japan.

Surprisingly, the Japanese immigration system is somewhat looser toward entering foreign nationals than the US system. Many Japanese believe that Japan has tough immigration laws for foreigners. I did, too. In fact, Japanese immigration law is loose enough to allow such a large number of "English Conversation Teachers" to be legal. There is no limitation on extending one's working visa as long as that person keeps their job. There is no need to prove the impossibility of hiring Japanese nationals to do these jobs. But there are other issues in Japan, such as discrimination toward foreign nationals (which is not subject to legal punishment as it is in the US) and an almost mysterious naturalization process.

One American I interviewed told me Japanese immigration officers treated him as if he were a criminal. That is exactly the same way foreigners in the US feel toward Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. We never experience our home country's immigration procedures, so it was a really interesting experience to write the Japanese visa book.

As you said in your column, my book lacks concrete examples and advice. One of the difficulties of this kind of guidebook is that useful advice tends to be on the borderline of legality or in a totally illegal area. Also, so many things are case by case. I know my book still needs more examples. I wish I could have interviewed more foreign people in Japan. If I have a chance to revise this book, I will add more real stories of the immigration process.

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