Archive for the “Legalities” Category

I mentioned on Facebook last month that it felt odd to not have a passport in my possession because I’d mailed it into the Osaka Consulate for renewal. Well, I’m happy to say I received my new passport book. It’s a bit different than the old one. First of all, they gave me the 52-page passport even though I only asked for the standard 28 pages. I’m guessing that’s because people renewing from outside the country are assumed to have a higher likelihood of filling it up.

Also, I wasn’t sure how they’d handle my valid visa- whether they’d just invalidate it or issue me a new one or what. They ended up just sending both passports back to me, with holes punched in the old one except for the page with my visa, complete with complimentary retro-style hanging chads!
“But David,” you might ask, “haven’t you renewed your passport before now; didn’t you know that you get to keep the old one?”
“No,” I’d answer, “I’ve never renewed my passport before.”
Even though this is now passport number three for me, it’s my first renewal. For an explanation of that math, take a look at this photo of the inside back cover of passport number two:

You can see the holes they punched in my old passport, as well as the new picture they stapled to it. The old one was issued by the Los Angeles Passport Agency, but (presumably because it was issued outside the US) the new one is issued by the United States Department of State, which bestows a benefit of cool +1.

The new passport has an RFID chip in it to enable another layer of authentication. If you look closely, you can see the icon on the front cover. Also, the front and back covers are much stiffer than before- they feel like they have stiff plastic embedded in them, which I guess is to protect the chip from bending and breaking. Aside from the outer cover, the photo and info page has moved from the inside front cover to page three.

The renewal process wasn’t too bad, but had some unusual requirements. You send in a PDF generated by their site after filling out a questionnaire on the State Department web site. The form is, of course, letter-size, but the closest paper size in Japan is A4, so I had to shrink it to print. You also need a money order for $110 denominated in USD- which, surprisingly to me, is available at the post office for the (not very) low cost of $20. They can issue postal money orders denominated in a number of foreign currencies, but the form is very tricky, and they don’t allow mistakes. For instance, there are two fields for address, one associated with your ID, and one with your residence. In my case, my ID shows my old address, so I wrote that in the field for ID, but my actual address in the address section. They made me fill out the form again with matching addresses. >:( Also, the photo size (2″x2″) required isn’t standard here, so I had to print a larger size and trim it down. Sending it in just required a pair of prepaid postal envelopes, which are easy enough to get.

Then it’s just a waiting game. Mine took about two weeks, just like the woman on the phone said it would before I mailed it all in.

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My passport, showing that my visa expired June 11th, and they finally accepted my application on July 20th.

So I’m technically in the country illegally right now. My “Specialist in Humanities / International Services” visa expired last month, and I just realized it about a week ago when I was going through my records for an unrelated reason.

I asked Yuko to call the regional immigration office that covers the region of Japan in which we live to ask what to do. You know those conversations that start with “I have this friend…”? Yeah, it was like that, in which she said she didn’t recall my name or really where I was from, but that I lived in Ehime.

Even though that was all she said, they knew exactly who I was when I went into the local office at 10am the next morning, Friday the 16th. The first woman I talked with was very reasonable. She said there was just one extra form to fill out, a letter of explanation/apology to submit with my visa renewal application.

Unfortunately, she was busy when I went back up to the counter to submit the form, and I talked with a guy who was markedly less friendly. He said they needed time to process the application; their office was about to close for lunch, and I had to go to work anyway, but when I suggested I come back on Tuesday (Monday was a national holiday), the dude suddenly became very animated, telling me that this was very very serious, and the police were going to come arrest me with his pantomimed handcuffs.

I obediently called work and told them I’d be a bit late for my scheduled administrative time.

A school such as mine is accustomed to helping its employees renew their visas, and when I brought in the paperwork from the immigration office, our accountant banged it out in about ten minutes, a model of efficiency. I ran home and grabbed a couple of forms she said I also needed (tax receipts from last year), and went back to the immigration office as they were reopening after lunch.

You have to realize that talking to someone in the Matsuyama immigration office is not as simple as walking up to Lucy’s psychiatric booth, coughing up a nickel, and getting what you need. Each time you hand them something, they dismiss you to the waiting area and secrete it back to their desks to perform arcane rituals that tell them how to proceed. Rinse and repeat until they run out of remotely-related things to tell you they need.

To wit: before my application for visa renewal was actually accepted, they “needed” a two-page application form I filled out, a slightly different two-page application form my school filled out, my letter of explanation, my passport, my foreign national registration card, my municipal health insurance card, receipts for paying income tax last year, receipts from paying my resident taxes last year, and two SEPARATE official certificates from city hall certifying that I had actually paid those two items for the last year (which they wouldn’t issue until I could prove I was current on this year’s payments as well).

Suspicious, I asked my accountant at school if all this was because I let my visa lapse. She said she’d been curious herself, and when she asked the immigration office, they said they had recently changed their renewal requirements, and this was all normal, save the letter of explanation.

Since they’ve finally accepted my application, now I just have to avoid the police while I wait for my new visa.

I’m not sure if Japan wrote the book on yak shaving, but they’re certainly raising it to an art form.

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I got my work visa! Technically a status “Change Permit” which changed my “Temporary Visitor” status to that of “Specialist in Humanities”, this little postage stamp-looking thing means I can earn money in Japan. More importantly, it means I can get my Alien Registration card, which I did, post-haste.

Look! My Alien Registration Card! (Neat hologram, eh?) Now I can get health insurance! And a cell phone! And internet service! I signed up for NTT’s ADSL service on Tuesday. I should have it up and running in two weeks, thank the gods!

While I was at the city office, I also registered my hanko. That little rubber stamp I showed you before can now be used as a legal signature here in Japan. Neat, huh? Now if I can only remember where I put it…

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