First, my situation:
a) My landing permission (在留期間) was scheduled to expire at the end of July.
b) My old-school re-entry permission stamp (再入国許可) was scheduled to expire at the end of June.
c) I was still on the old Alien Registration Card and knew that my next renewal would also be the time at which I'd be issued the new Zairyu Card instead.
d) The Zairyu Card was also a concern to me, since it doesn't display your legal alias in Japan. I sometimes need an ID displaying that name for business. My plan was to apply for a Juki-net card on the same day so I'd still have access to ID with my alias written on it.
e) I had a trip abroad planned that would have me back in Japan at the beginning of July, before my old landing permission expired but after my old re-entry permit expired.
f) My job had changed since my last landing permission was issued, and I wasn't sure how much that would complicate the renewal process.
At first, my plan was to cut it close: apply for a Zairyu Card only as an excuse to go to the immigration office and ask questions about my upcoming renewal, then wait until I returned from my trip to start the actual renewal process. I downloaded the Zairyu Card application, filled it out, and took it to the office:
A kind lady there took a look at the form, then a look at my passport, and said, "Nope. Your renewal is coming up anyway, and you'll be issued a Zairyu Card automatically. So just apply for the renewal now or hang on to the old card until you do apply."
OK, not a big deal. How about the re-entry permit? Would I need to apply for one of those since the old one was about to expire?
"Nope. The new re-entry system is in place, and it works with the old Alien Registration Card just as well as the new Zairyu Card. Even though your old re-entry sticker still has a few months left on it, it's already irrelevant. If you're leaving Japan for under one year, you don't need to have a re-entry sticker."
Oh, all right. Well, at any rate I'd like to start organizing my papers for the upcoming renewal. Can you tell me about how my change of employment affects my renewal?
In your case, it looks like you'll need to provide a photocopy of a document proving your employment status and income, photocopies of any certifications you've been issued in Japan, and the renewal application form, which includes a page to be filled out by your employer and stamped with your employer's official seal confirming your employment status and income.
(This was about a billion times easier than I'd anticipated. In my vain attempts to understand the legalese written on the Ministry of Justice's website, I'd been afraid I'd have to ask my employer to provide details about its own capital and revenue--which I believe had been the case for one of my former employees. I still do not understand this requirement clearly, but I think it's something that can be required if the MOJ questions the reputability of your sponsoring organization.)
So, if it's that easy, I want to apply right away, before I leave on my trip. How long is it going to take to process the application? What happens if it comes time for me to leave the country but the application is still being evaluated? My trip is only three weeks away!
Her stock answer was "Two to four weeks." That's what it says on the MOJ website. But she added in a quiet voice, "But I think your application will be OK."
When you apply for a renewal, your passport gets stamped, indicating that you're being evaluated. The passport isn't submitted to immigration, just shown, so you're still able to travel on that passport within your current landing permission. The trick is, when you submit your application, you fill out a self-addressed postcard. The immigration bureau mails this postcard back to you to tell you to come pick up your new permit (or, presumably, to come hear the bad news that your application was rejected). The card, when it arrives, is stamped with a date by which you must come pick up the permit. In my case, it was a period of about ten days from when I received the postcard.
If I had been out of the country when that postcard arrived, and continued to be out of the country past the "pickup date" written on the postcard, it might have caused problems when I went in to receive my new permit. Luckily the postcard arrived well in advance of my travel plans, and so this was not a hitch I ran into. But it does seem like something that could happen and screw up some unfortunate applicant's plans.
Anyway, the biggest takeaway for me was how important it is to clearly explain any travel plans to the immigration officers when you submit your application. They are the most qualified people to tell you whether those travel plans are likely to cause any bumps in your renewal process. But, I can say that they are generally nice people and if you treat them with courtesy and seem to have all your papers in order, they'll probably watch your back and help make sure things work out for you.