TOKYO -- Foreign residents in Japan will be allowed to renew, extend or change visas online, starting in fiscal 2021.
The Justice Ministry plans to reform the system to make it more efficient and convenient for foreign residents. Currently, in most cases foreign residents have to visit a regional immigration services bureau to change their residency status. Online applications for changing residency status are permitted only when companies and organizations make them on behalf of applicants who belong to them.
The ministry's move is also aimed at reducing waiting lines at bureaus' reception counters and preventing infections with the new coronavirus.
Under the new system starting in April, foreign nationals living in Japan will be able to apply for status changes using a computer or smartphone.
To confirm their identification, applicants will be required to enter their residence card number and take additional steps to prevent fraudulent applications, though details have yet to be determined.
The ministry also envisions a new system requiring applicants to provide electronic forms of documents showing that they meet the conditions of the residency status they apply for, such as employment contracts or official documents showing marital relationship with a Japanese citizen.
The ministry has earmarked 1.25 billion yen ($11.5 million) under the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 to cover the costs of upgrading the computer system for more reliable ID confirmation.
Currently, applying for a status change can be a very cumbersome, time-consuming process, especially in spring, when many foreign students seek to switch from student to work visas. Applicants sometimes have to wait for hours.
The online application option is available only for companies and organizations that meet certain conditions to do the procedure on behalf of affiliated applicants. They need, for instance, to have an established record of properly employing foreign workers.
Foreign residents need to change their residency status when, for instance, they graduate from school and obtain employment in Japan, or get married with a Japanese national.
In fiscal 2019, which ended in March 2020, some 770,000 visa extensions and 280,000 residency status changes were approved, according to the Immigration Services Agency. Online applications accounted for only several percent of the total.
The new system is designed to simplify the procedures for continued residence in Japan.