Difference between Visa and Status of Residence
Visa and Status of Residence are often used interchangeably, but they are two very different things.
In most cases, people talk about visas. A visa to travel to a foreign country, a visa to work in Japan. The type of visa matches the status of residence, so what is the difference between the two?
While they seem similar, the purpose of a visa (ビザ or 査証, さしょう) is different from that of your status of residence (在留資格, ざいりゅうしかく).
A visa is your entry ticket to Japan. Before you can move to Japan you have to apply from abroad. A Certificate of Eligibility will show that you meet the necessary requirements, and with it, you can get your visa, a pretty sticker in your passport, which gives you green light to travel to Japan.
A visa is just that, a document that says you meet the requirements to enter Japan for a specific purpose. It establishes that the Immigration office and an embassy or consular office somewhere in the world checked up on you and you passed.
Status of Residence
This is a big step, but this is really all a visa does. Having a visa does not guarantee that you can actually become a resident of Japan.
The final decision lies with the immigration officer who conducts a last screening after you landed in Japan. This process usually takes less than 5 minutes and goes so smoothly, that visa and status of residence can be easily mistaken for the same thing. In rare cases though, some people are denied from entering Japan by the immigration officer and are forced to go home.
If everything goes well (it usually does), and you are cleared, then you, and everyone else who comes to Japan, is assigned a status of residence. Even tourists coming under mutual visa exemption arrangements will be given “temporary visitor status” upon arrival, which will be shown in their passports.
And the Residence Card
Once you are in Japan, your visa lost its purpose. Short-term visitors have the stamp in their passport that clarifies their status of residence. In case of long-term stays, a residence card (在留カード, ざいりゅう) is also handed out, which acts as your ID while in Japan.
So, once you are in Japan, you don’t need to change your visa, but your “status of residence”. The status of residence is assigned based on the activity a foreigner engages in during their stay in Japan.
When the primary activity in Japan changes, like a student starting to work, one has to change one’s status of residence, which then won’t require a new visa. Unless of course, you leave Japan and apply from abroad again.