Monday, June 15, 2009

The Joy of Immigration: Round 2

Today my husband and I went off to Shinagawa to complete part two of the immigration odyssey. I mentioned before that part one involves making the application. Part two involves actually getting the visa in your passport. I must say that I got my postcard notifying me that the application had been processed much faster than expected. I applied Monday morning and got the card Friday afternoon.

Since we had good luck with shortening the wait by going relatively early in the morning, we followed the same pattern this time. This was despite the fact that we had to stand on the trains almost all of the time and my back and hips were not happy campers. The most efficient way to get there was via the Rinkai line (from Shinjuku) as it bypasses a lot of stations and gets you to Tennozu Isle pretty quickly.

The second half of the process involves pursuing a line to counter "A". There's a long red line running down the carpet and a bunch of those roped off areas that snake around like they have at Disney for people waiting to get on rides. That means that you get to wait a bit before you get up to the counter and offer up your postcard, gaijin card, and passport.

You also have to buy a 4,000 yen (about $40) revenue stamp to pay for the whole thing. If anyone indicates that immigration processes are paid for by taxes, they are wrong. It costs $40 per visa application and $30 per single re-entry permit. The face time you get with an immigration official is about 2 minutes combining both the application and pick-up time. I don't know how long people spend on the processing, but I can't imagine it's too terribly long. Sure, they have to pull your files and check your forms for mistakes, but given the number of people making applications, there's no way it's more than 15 minutes per person for anything besides a permanent residence application.

At any rate, I got in the line and it took about 15 minutes to snake my way up to the counter where I surrendered my identification and applied the revenue stamp to a piece of paper that said what I was doing (extending my current visa status) and required a signature. After that, instead of waiting in line, I was allowed to sit and wait.

The waiting areas at Tokyo Regional Immigration in Shinagawa are hot and stuffy. We've been told by students that they believe public buildings don't have great air conditioning because walking into an uncomfortable government office reassures people that their tax dollars aren't being squandered keeping public servants and the unfortunate souls at their mercy comfortable. Personally, I'd be very happy if some of the money I pay to the Japanese government in taxes were used to keep immigration cool and dry rather than to finance cheap classes to teach grannies and grampies how to dial a cell phone and push a mouse on their computers.

The "system" for picking up the visa is a bit different from that for applying. When you apply, you get a number and your number is called and you go to the counter. It's a lot like visiting a busy New York bakery. When you pick up the visa, they don't call your number exactly. They call a number and anyone who is currently holding a number lower than the one called can rush to the counter and stand in another line to get the visa. My number was 185 so I was able to go up when 187 was called, for instance.

Unfortunately, there are always some people who think that they don't have to follow the system or find it too taxing to comprehend. When 187 flashed up and I was happily first to the counter, someone with a number around 218 jumped in front of me and started trying to submit paperwork which was not supposed to be handled at that counter. He kept asking the woman working there for something and she told him to go elsewhere, but he wouldn't give it up. Eventually, she convinced him to go away and then apologized quite sincerely to me for what had happened. It's not like it was her fault that he was either clueless about the process and/or okay with usurping the time and attention due to people who had already spent their time waiting.

I imagine the bane of the existence of a lot of immigration officials are people who think they can skip to the head of the line or wheedle their way into some area that they don't belong in. It wastes their time and just prolongs the process of dealing with applications in an orderly fashion such that I'm sure they fall behind more and more as the day goes on. That being said, they start out behind (by an hour or a bit more) and I think they never catch up, but every person who thinks they can horn in where they don't belong is only adding minutes to the rest of our waits.

At any rate, once this fellow hit the road, she showed me my visa and returned my passport with its shiny new renewal. I thanked her. We smiled at each other, and the CH and I hit the road. The entire business took about 45 minutes, not counting the ludicrously long commute to the office conveniently located in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, we forgot the camera so I can't offer you any scenic shots of absolutely gigantic lots stacked with enormous Chinese shipping containers or multitudes of big trucks surrounding our cab and filling the air with the delicate scent of diesel exhaust.

Since things went so swimmingly, we decided to stop off at an English language second-hand book store in Ebisu. We had about $35 worth of credit due to expire tomorrow and we bought 3 psychology books with it. We chose those so my husband can familiarize himself with some more concepts before taking classes back home. The man at the shop remarked, jokingly, but I think also meaningfully, that we spent little more than our credit allowed. I think they don't really like it when people only spend their credit as it's not very profitable for them. However, we need to liquidate our books, not get more of them, and this is the start of our effort to minimize our collection.

While we perused the books, we were treated to some pretentious conversation about how foreigners living in Japan lose their ability to have conversations and that the highly intelligent customer who was buying books couldn't have a good chat with his troglodytic friend who had lost his conversation skills after teaching English for awhile. Apparently, we English teachers spend so much time asking our students simplistic and simple-minded questions that we forget how to form any but the most primitive of sentences. I imagine after all of my years here, I'm going to be reduced to nothing more than grunts when I attempt to communicate with my fellow Americans upon returning to my native soil. The magnanimous foreign fellow did grant that, after spending some time with someone of his immense intellect that his friend regained some of his perspicacity, so I'm relying on my American friends and acquaintances to help me regain my capacity for sophisticated discourse.

Our books procured (and with a new sense of confidence that books would bring us into the light of intelligence once more), we headed out to Subway for double turkey and roast beef subs chock full of healthy, healthy veggies. We got them to go as we'd rather eat in the comfort of our home than the warm, narrow hallway the shop is set up in . My husband has become expert in asking the people there to load up my turkey sandwich with jalapeno and black olives. Apparently, these items are in short supply as they anoint my sandwich with exactly two of each even when asked to put "takusan" (many) on it. My hubby had to ask them twice for more in order to net me a total of 6 each.

When we reached our home neighborhood, my husband and I briefly split up because he wanted potato chips with his sandwich and I just wanted to get to my bike. He sprinted off and I trudged toward the bikes figuring that our respective speeds should have us meeting up at the bicycles. During the entire time that I was out and about with my husband, no one approached me, but during the brief duration that we were apart, some Japanese guy gave me a major gawking and when I gave him the hairy eyeball in return, he started talking to me about my legs. I ignored him, but the experience reinforced something which I have noticed about Japanese people bothering foreigners in Tokyo. That is that they don't bother you if you're with another Japanese person of any gender or with a foreign male. If you're alone, they feel free to intrude on you in a manner which is utterly inappropriate in their culture (Japanese people as a rule do not strike up a conversation with strangers, and it's even less common in Tokyo than other areas).

After getting home and inhaling the sub and a Diet Coke, I decided to complete the final phase of the process and just go to the local government office and register my new visa. I didn't want to do it, and my feet doubly did not want to, but the allure of an entire day off tomorrow without annoying bureaucracy of any sort squashed the protest that my feet were making. So, we biked off to another massively overheated government office and allowed them to duly note whatever it is that needed duly noting. I noted that my ku (ward) taxes were being used to buy a bunch of new chairs for the waiting areas. I actually liked the old seating more, but I didn't get a say on how my yen got spent.

As of now, we've each got one more tangle with bureaucracy and then we should be in the clear for the duration. Unfortunately, our alien registration cards expire this year so we each have to go get new ones within a month of our respective birthdays. Sigh. I'm going as early as possible so I can tick this one last thing off the list and, hopefully, never look back.


Emily said...

Oh, bureaucracy schmureacracy! At least you've got a whole day to yourself tomorrow. I, meanwhile, eight hours behind you, am gearing up to take my things to the laundry. I have no work this week and am spending time finishing paintings, making cards and generally working on my art business. It's amazing how a trip down the road with your bed linen can interrupt your day!

I know the 'intellectual' you overheard in the bookshop - well, I don't actually know that one, but the type. What a plonker! I think his observations about how limiting teaching English in Japan is to the old grey matter says far more about his experience than yours or mine. Bless! Good job you bought those books.

I was incredibly lucky when I received my visa extension in Kitakyushu. I think that life outside Tokyo must be a rather different experience for many of us as it was all done easily, olus the office was a pleasant stroll through the grounds of Kokura castle.

On a different note, was the guy who looked at your legs cute ;-)?

Orchid64 said...

The guy who bothered me was an older guy - grey-haired and whatnot. Most of the younger people don't actually talk to you like that. They prefer to stare and then whisper to each other about you (if they're unsophisticated enough to play the "oh my God, it's a gaijin! game" - fortunately, most aren't).

Kelly said...

I find it funny that you said you gave him the hairy eyeball back, I just thought "you go girl!" Orchid 1, Japanese guy 0.

What I wanted to ask is, do all foreigners have to go back to the immigration at the same time every year, that is, everyone has the same date they have to go? Or is it different for everyone depending on how long they have been there, what date they arrived etc.

Is it always so busy there, do you think, or only certain times of the year when the majority of people go?

I'm just curious. :)

Orchid64 said...

Kelly: Everyone goes back at a different time depending on when they received their first visa or changed their status. Since I came in late spring and got my visa in early summer, I'm always stuck going in the summer. If I had known, I'd have come in winter so at least I wouldn't have to endure the stifling heat and humidity every time.

Based on what I've heard from other people and my personal experience, it is always busy. I've never known anyone who didn't have to wait for at least 45 minutes, but I've only known people who went to Tokyo. Our longest wait at the current office was something like 3.5 hours between offering the application and getting called to the window.

I should note that it's not every year for everyone. You can get a visa for 3 years, though not always. Sometimes they give you one year at first and later will give you three.

Helen said...

You probably don't want to know this Orchid, but I think I waited all of 2 seconds to get my visa changed to PR! I usually go to a little branch in Sakata (it's a port city so they have one, its head office is Sendai though)

I've only once that I can remember had to wait more than 5 minutes and that was probably cause I went when there were two people ahead of me. :-)

I came over in March, so for years I had to traipse over there in early March...lots of snow and water. Then, I changed to a spousal visa in December. Slightly better going over in late November. Now, I only have to go to pick up my re-entry permit every 3 years or so because I have PR.

Orchid64 said...

I'm not surprised that areas outside of the major metropolises don't have the same wait. Of course, the reason for that is that there are fewer foreigners. It doesn't bother me that you don't have to wait at all.

However, I do think the waits at the main office in Tokyo (which we are obliged to go to as you must go to the office nearest your address), are way too long. If new regulations for foreigners are put in place where every change has to be run through the immigration office rather than the local ward office, we're going to have serious problems.