Among other advantages, becoming an offically registered spouse removes any working restrictions that a traditional visa carries. In addition, it is easier apply for permenent residency (eien jumin-ken 永遠住民権) when you are offically married to a Japanese national.
Disclaimer: I am not an immigration lawyer and I am not familiar with the minuitia of Japanese immigration procedures. These findings are based soley on my own experience as a foreigner residing lawfully in Japan.
First of all, the term "spouse visa," while popular in foreigner vernacular, is not technically correct. According to the letter of the law, a "visa" (sasho 査証) is only used for entering the country. After you clear the airport, you are offically granted a "status of residence" (zairyu shikaku 在留資格). Check out Steve's article on visas versus status of residence to clear up any abigous terminology. In the case of marrying a Japanese citizen, the offical status is known as nihonjin no haigusha (日本人の配偶者).
What You Need
The list of documents you need to compile to apply for a spousal satus of residence is a long one, so make sure you leave plenty of time for all the leg work. Also, don't forget that the all mighty immigration authorities reserve the right to request additional documents before processing your application.
Based on my experience experience, you need the following...
- 4cm x 3cm ID Sized Photographs- You will need to put on your Application for Change of Status of Residence (see below). Officially you only need one but its a good idea to bring extras just in case. Make sure to write your name on the back before gluing it to your application. Like all ID photos, the photo should be taken against a plain background with only your head and shoulder visible. Hats and sun glasses are a big no-no.
- Application for Change of Status of Residence- A PDF version of the application (zairyu shikaku henko shinsei 在留資格変更申請) can be downloaded from the Ministry of Justice website or you can pick one up at the immigration office. Although the form looks intimidating, its basically the same immigration rigamarole with a couple of extra questions about you and your spouse's income.
- A Copy of Your Basic Resident Register- You need to snag a copy your basic resident register (jyumin-hyo 住民票) that lists you and your spouse. The resident register lists family relations (spouse, son, etc) so this will serve as proof of marriage.
- A Copy of Your Foreign Marriage Certificate- This only applies if you were legally married before moving to Japan. Make sure to bring a translation as well.
- Snap Shots- Here's where it gets creepy. You have to provide immigration with 2 to 3 photos of you and your spouse, "doing things that normal couples usually do"--or at least that was the definition given by my local immigration official. Try throwing in some wedding pictures to make it look authentic.
- Proof of Employment- If you are currently working and acting as the bread winner, you need to ask your primary employer for proof of employment. There is no set format for this but it usually has to be a stamped letter listing the length of your employment and salary. In addition, it should have an official seal or stamp from you employing organization.
- Proof of Tax Payment and Proof of Residence Tax Payment- In order to show that you are not a no-good tax cheat, you need to get a Proof of Tax Payment (zozei shomeisho 納税証明書) and Proof of Residence Tax Payment (jumin no kazei shomeisho 住民の課税証明書) from your local ward office or city hall. In the event you are exempt from local resident taxes (i.e. earning no income) then you need to get a Proof of Resident Tax Exemption (住民の非課税証明書 jumin no hi-kazei shomeisho). Residence tax is assessed by the city, town, or ward where you were officially domiciled from January 1st. So even if you move house in February, you will have to get your tax forms from your previous locality.
- Passport- Pretty basic. Don't forget it!
- Residence Card or Alien Registration Card- As is the case with all transactions involving immigration, bring your Residence Card or Alien Registration Card. As the Alien Registration Card is officially being abolished, you will have to fork it over once your visa is changed.
- A Copy of Your Spouse' Family Registration- Your spouse needs produce a full copy of his or her full Family Registration (koseki tohon 戸籍謄本).
- Questionaire- Although it is called a "questionnaire" (shitsumon-sho 質問書), it is more like a small essay involving various invasive questions such as how and when did you meet, what languages do you use on a daily basis, and a chronological list of the whole dating process up until marriage. Also, make sure you have all your old passports handy as you have to list every trip into and out of Japan. You can download the PDF form here. This must be filled out by hand by your Japanese spouse.
- Letter of Guarantee- Also known as a mimoto hosho-sho (身元保証書). This is basically a letter where your spouse agrees to take legal and moral responsibility for repatriating you if you seriously mess up. This is not to be confused with a financial hosho-nin (保証人) entourage who is legally responsible for repaying unpaid debts. The form can be found here and should be stamped with your spouse's official seal.
- Proof of Tax Payment and Proof of Residence Tax Payment- Same as listed above. This is especially important if your spouse is the bread winner. Even if he or she is not working, its a good idea to bring these anyways just to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Also, it is a good idea to bring your spouse along just in case any problems arise or you need help translating. If anything is unclear, call your local immigration center or ask when their consultation window is open.
The immigration authorities here in Japan have a very traditional definition of what constitutes a lawful marriage. If you and your spouse maintain separate abodes with different addresses then expect a lot more trouble. Immigration officials also may call your home phone to verify you and your spouse live together. The official reason for this is to prevent sham marriages solely for visa purposes.
Having a stable income is also key. If you make your dough via multiple part time jobs then immigration might take a harder look at your application. You might be asked to bring in more than one proof of income as well.
Have you had any experiences, good or bad, with changing your status of residence? If so, let us know in the comment section!