I've just returned from the immigration center in Osaka, where I received my permanent residency permit. This makes me happy.
So far I've stayed here on Researcher or Professor visas. They are time-limited — usually to one or three years — and tied to your employer. I can work only in research or teaching1, and if I don't have a job when it's time to renew it I'm out of luck.
The permanent residency permit doesn't normally expire. You can take any job, with a few limits2, and you're not dependent on a guarantor for staying here. For many purposes you have the same rights and obligations as a citizen. Also, people will take you a bit more seriously in some situations; it's apparently easier to qualify for loans and to find a job when people know you intend to be here for the long term.
I don't normally have to renew the permit, and with the new immigration system the permit is only recorded on your residence card so I don't have to do anything when I renew my passport. The residence card has to be renewed every seven years but I can certainly live with that. I can leave Japan for up to a year, and with a re-entry permit I could live abroad for three years at a time without losing the residency.
To get the permit you must have lived here for ten years or longer; not been arrested; and been working, paying taxes and earning enough to support yourself. If you're married to a Japanese citizen you can get permanent residency without the ten-year time and without fulfilling all other requirements. As I'm married to Ritsuko it didn't matter that I've been here only nine years so far.
We applied last June and got it now in March, so it took about nine months. It can apparently go as fast as six months or take up to a year, so it's important that you keep your normal visa up to date while you wait. I think there are seasonal aspects to this; going over New Year probably slows down the process, and I suspect it's not a coincidence that I received it in mid-march, when people try to clear out work before the end of the fiscal year.
It's not really difficult to apply for it yourself, but it involves a lot of forms and documents and a fair amount of legwork. We chose to hire a paralegal rather than do it all ourselves. Basically, he made sure to get all supporting documents, filled in all forms correctly and made sure the office would be satisfied. We only had to check the finished forms and visit the immigration office once to submit the application. To me it was well worth it to avoid the stress and having to take time off work multiple times.
So, am I here for good? We'll stay here in Japan, but for how long we can't know. At least until retirement is my guess — but then, I thought I'd return to Sweden after one year when I first arrived, and see how that turned out. And if anything, permanent residency would make it easier to leave, since you can stay abroad for years without losing your right to return as long as you have a valid re-entry permit.
Having permanent residency is convenient of course. and it can be useful for job hunting and things like that. But what this mostly means to me is peace of mind and a sense of stability. My life here with Ritsuko just got a little more permanent, and that makes me happy.
|Me, feeling very peace of mindy. Aren't you happy you let this guy into the country?|
#1 I get asked to sell rights to a picture now and again but usually turn people down, partially for this reason. I'm technically not allowed to make a living as a photographer, and the rules seem fuzzy enough that I'd rather not take a chance on this. The other reason, by the way, is the difficulty of receiving small payments from abroad. The only way I've found are bank transfers, and the transfer charge is almost as much as the typical cost of an image license.
#2 The exception is public-sector jobs limited to Japanese citizens only. It surprisingly includes grade- and high-school teachers, while anybody can teach or do research at national universities. Come to think of it, this is generally the case: grade-school teachers need years of training and practice, while any PhD student with a pulse can lecture at a university.