When my job contract ended in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic, I was left in a very precarious personal, legal and health situation by Japanese immigration authorities, who gave me few options and information. Mr. Nakano greatly helped me out of a very difficult situation and back on my feet.
Convalescent and undocumented
I had applied for an extension of my working residence card on the basis that its due date was prior to the end of my work contract. However immigration did not reply for over three months and a few days after my contract expired they informed me that they would not renew my Residence Card.
All I got was a “Designated Activities” stamp on my passport, that would give me three months to “prepare for returning” to my country. This was totally unexpected, and contradicted all the information I had been given when had contacted them previously. It was a terrible situation because I had no plans to return at this point: my home country of Spain was one of world’s hotspots for COVID and I was also pending a medical procedure I had been postponing in order to not let it interfere with my work.
Unable to find another job I got a three-month extension of my Japanese national health insurance to match the new “Designated Activities” period of stay. I underwent surgery and was convalescent when the three months expired. I could extend this visa for another three months due to my medical situation and the impossibility to complete my rehabilitation if I went back to my country, which was under lockdown due to the pandemic.
However under the “Designated Activities – preparing to return” status I had no Residence Card, and this had a number of ominous consequences: I was not allowed to do any kind of work, I was also barred from registering in Hello Work, and after the three month extension of my national health insurance run out, at my town hall also refused to provide me with health coverage alleging that a Residence Card was necessary and the first extension was awarded to me only due to the CORONA situation. Convalescent, with no possibility to apply for jobs or receive the unemployment benefits that my previous job had entitled me to, covering all my expenses and the full cost of my ongoing post-operatory treatment was a great burden.
An unexpected savior
My doctor was very weary that I would not be able to complete my recovery if I was forced to leave the country. He told me he knew someone who could help me stabilize my legal situation, and put me in contact with Mr. Nakano from Waasa. Mr Nakano immediately answered my request and got to work at warp speed, with a dedication I would have never obtained from any professional lawyer.
Firstly, diving into laws and regulations and found out that I was actually entitled to national health coverage because it officially did not on having a Residence Card, but on being registered as a resident in the city (Jūminhyō). He made a few calls and just next day I could go to my town hall, obtain my brand new health insurance card and claim back all the expenses I had been forced to pay out of pocket for the last two months.
Next, he devised a way to get me a Residence Card and the possibility of working part time while extending my residence beyond the precarious month and a half I had left on my “Designated Activities” visa. Mr. Nakano found documentation from Japanese official sources where it was clearly stated that my medical procedure required nine months follow-up with the same doctor that performed the surgery.
He wrote an application letter to the Ministry of the Interior for a change of status on the basis of difficulties to return to my country. In it we argued that I needed rehabilitation and follow-up procedures which could not be done if I returned back home, and that the trip itself would be difficult due to my medical situation and the Coronavirus pandemic. The letter also added that it was too much of a burden to expect me to sustain myself economically without any help or employment for nine months.
Mr. Nakano not only prepared the documents for the application, he personally accompanied me to the immigration office to better explain in Japanese the whole situation to the officials there. After the process was complete, I didn’t even need to go back home and wait for a resolution. Within a few hours, my status was changed to a different category of the “Designated Activities” visa.
I obtained a Residence Card with validity for six months and a permit to work part-time in Japan. With it I was able to register at Hello Work just next day, and receive unemployment benefits that would help me through the trying times of the pandemic while I finished my medical treatment.
Meeting Mr. Nakano has really made my life much easier, and I am extremely thankful to him and my doctor for it.
Being stuck outside of Japan is no fun. With only occasional visits to the U.S. and other countries, I had lived in Tokyo continuously since October of 2010. But now, I was unable to re-enter Japan.
I had arrived in Los Angeles, California on March 1, 2020. Because my residence card had expired on June 28, 2020 (while I was in the U.S.) my return to Japan was made exponentially more difficult. Although Japanese Immigration would soon bar entry to Japan from many countries including the U.S., the main reason I could not return was that my residence card had expired.
Why had I let my card expire? Well, based on my reading of the information published by Japanese Immigration, I thought I had a three-month extension. But, as discovered by Mr. Nakano (the Chief Director of WAASA), the three-month extension was granted only for those residents already in Japan! (This was to prevent over-crowding at the Immigration Bureau.)
An appeal to the Japanese Consulate in Los Angeles was to no avail. They said they could not do anything because my card had expired. Calls to Japanese Immigration itself bore no fruit.
Because there was said to be a strong possibility, however, that Japan would soon allow visitors from Hawaii, I decided to go there.
I arrived on September 1, and self-quarantined for two weeks. I consulted with the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu, but it seemed that there was still little possibility of returning to Japan. Tourists could definitely not enter Japan, and unless there were special circumstances, even foreign residents were barred.
At this point, I explained my predicament to Mr. Nakano. He visited Immigration and the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, after speaking to an upper-level official, was able to determine a course of action that could lead to a way back into Japan.
Note that the procedure may now be obsolete. Also note that it is written in Japanese. I don’t recall whether or not there was an English version of the document.
The most important component of my application for a visa was the moushitate-sho (申立書), a personal statement explaining my situation and my current need to return to Japan. I wrote the initial draft in Japanese, and submitted that to the consulate in Honolulu for review. They asked for more detail, and so, together with Mr. Nakano, I refined the document. The consulate accepted my moushitate-sho, and submitted it to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After two weeks, I was granted a visa.
I believe that it was very important that the moushitate-sho be written in Japanese. Although apparently the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu would have translated an English-language moushitate-sho into Japanese, I doubt that the quality of such a translation would be as good as what Mr. Nakano and I were able to write. Being able to communicate in native Japanese is a way to “make things happen.”
There were no direct flights from Honolulu to Tokyo, and most of the flights flew back to the U.S. mainland, and then crossed over to Tokyo. I felt that was wasteful, so I chose a flight that took me to Narita via Guam. There was a one-night layover in strict quarantine. The quarantine was well-managed by the Guam contingent of the U.S. Army and the National Guard.
I arrived in Japan on Oct 16, and was interviewed by Japanese Immigration officials. This was nerve-wracking because it seemed possible that I would be barred from entry. They explained that they needed to understand the reason for the approval of my re-entry, but unfortunately, because it was a Saturday, the Foreign Ministry official who had handled my case was not at work, and could not access the Foreign Ministry computer system remotely. (The details of my case were actually more nuanced than what I’ve described.)
On my computer, I displayed the moushitate-sho which Mr. Nakano and I had written. This provided the immigration officials at Narita with a lot of clarification. I showed them the WAASA website, which clearly listed me as a director. I showed them the website of the Japanese company for which I did consulting. After seeing all of this, they were confident that I had a legitimate need to be back in Japan, and was given, on the spot, a new residence card (with Long Term Resident status!) with a one-year period of validity, which would give me enough time to re-apply for a longer term period of validity.
I quarantined in a Narita hotel for two weeks, and was finally free to take public transportation to go home on Oct 31, Halloween.
In hindsight, the key factor was the moushitate-sho, which I could not have written in Japanese to the same level of clarity without the help of WAASA’s Mr. Nakano.