In the beginning of 2014 the Ministry of Interior issued a Directive aimed at the Prefectures, with the purpose of improving the services to immigrants. The most noteworthy changes included in the Directive are the following:
Residence Permit Requirements
Several Prefectures have been known to request supporting documents which were not listed as requirements in the official guidelines. In January 2014 the Ministry has issued new lists of requirements for the various types of residence permits, which are available online. The Directive instructs the Prefectures to assess applications solely on the basis of these listed requirements.
Provisional Residence Permit Validity
Upon filing of an application for a residence permit the applicant receives a receipt as proof of application. This receipt serves as a provisional residence permit. As of February 2014, for initial applicants, Prefectures are able to issue these receipts acting as provisional residence permits for a period of 6 months if it is expected that the residence permit application will not be processed within the usual time frame. However, the extended validity should only be used on exceptional basis; most provisional residence permits should therefore still be issued with 4 months validity.
The new Directive also addresses a common concern for renewal applicants. Previously the Prefectures could only issue a receipt which acted as provisional residence permit from the date of renewal application. This would often result in the applicant effectively holding 2 valid permits for the last period of validity of the current residence permit, and only very limited duration of the provisional permit after the expiry date of the residence permit (typically about 1 month, assuming the renewal application was submitted 2 months in advance). Starting February 2014 the Prefectures are now able to change the text on the receipts for renewal applicants, issuing a provisional residence permit with as start date the day after the expiration date of the current residence permit, and therefore providing the renewal applicant residence authorization for 3 months beyond the validity of their previous permit. Applicants are expected to file for their renewal at least 2 months in advance to be able to receive a receipt with this amended text.
Text Message Notification
Following the example of Prefectures in some districts, as of April 2014 all Prefectures will be able to offer their applicants the option to be notified by text message that their residence permit is available for collection. This text message will include the reference number, applicable authority for collection (including address and opening hours), and amount of fee to be paid (if applicable).
Although these and other proposed changes mentioned in the Directive should streamline the process for immigrants, it remains to be seen how many of these will indeed be implemented by the Prefectures.
Other changes are expected later this year, since the draft of a new Law will be presented to Parliament after the local elections in spring 2014. Pro-Link GLOBAL will provide updates on any additional changes resulting from this new law, if and when they occur.