The Religious Activities Visa is for members of foreign religious organizations who wish to undertake religious work in Japan.
This may include Monks, Bishops, and missionaries.
It should be emphasized that the Religious Activities Visa is a work category and not for those whose goal is to merely study religion.
SIX STEPS TO OBTAIN A JAPAN RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES VISA
In order to obtain a Religious Activities Visa to work in Japan, an Applicant will need to complete the following six steps:
Confirm that the proposed work in Japan is consistent with the activities permitted for the holder of a Religious Activities Visa.
The permitted activities under a Religious Activities Visa consist of missionary and other religious activities conducted by foreign religious workers who have been dispatched to Japan by a foreign religious organization.
Assemble the documents required to support a Religious Activities Visa application.
Once an Applicant has confirmed that her proposed activities in Japan are consistent with those outlined above in Step 1, specific supporting documentation needs to be prepared.
In the case of a Religious Activities Visa, the authorities require the following:
- Documents from the foreign religious organization that certify:
- The duration of the Applicants proposed stay in Japan,
- The Applicants proposed position,
- The Applicants proposed remuneration.
- Material providing an outline of the foreign religious organization which is sending the Applicant to Japan.
- Material providing an outline of the recipient Japanese religious organization.
- Documents certifying the Applicants current position and religious career.
Although not technically required, our experience is that providing Japanese translations enhances the quality of an application. This may minimize delays in obtaining final approval.
Japan Visa is able to assist in the preparation and translation of all documentation required for a Religious Activities Visa.
Note Regarding Japan Tax Planning Opportunities for Religious Activities Visa Applicants.
Typically, compensation structuring opportunities for the holder of a Religious Activities Visa will be quite limited. However, it is worth bearing in mind that items such as employer provided housing, commuting allowance, and employer funded home leave can result in significant individual tax savings. In some circumstances, off-shore payment of compensation can result in tax savings if the holder of the Religious Activities Visa will spend time outside Japan on business. All these items need to be negotiated with the employer prior to finalizing the documentation needed for the Religious Activities Visa COE application (see Step 3 below). The following article provides more information about this important issue Japan Taxes: Tax Planning for Foreigners Working in Japan.
Submit an application for a Religious Activities Visa Certificate of Eligibility (“COE”).
Once the Applicant’s activities have been confirmed and the appropriate documents assembled per steps 1 and 2 above, the next step in most cases will be to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (abbreviated as “COE”).
A COE is a document issued by the Japanese immigration authorities. It certifies an Applicant’s eligibility to undertake specific employment in Japan – in this case, the position associated with the Religious Activities Visa application.
An application for a Religious Activities Visa COE must be submitted in person at a regional immigration office in Japan. The COE application cannot be submitted by mail or at a Japanese embassy outside Japan.
Where the Applicant is not personally available (for example because she is not in Japan or due to a busy schedule) Japanese law allows a certified immigration specialist to submit a Religious Activities Visa COE application on behalf of the Applicant.
Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists are able to handle all the procedures associated with preparing and submitting an application for a Religious Activities Visa COE.
Await Approval of the Religious Activities Visa COE.
The processing time for a Religious Activities Visa COE is generally four to six weeks.
Once approved, a notice is sent to an address in Japan advising that the COE is ready for collection at the regional immigration office where the COE application was originally submitted.
Where Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists are handling the Religious Activities Visa application, the notification from the immigration authorities is sent to our office. Japan Visa then collects the COE from the regional immigration office and either forwards it to the Applicant or prepares a change of status application (see Step 5 below).
Obtain Religious Activities Status of Residence (SOR).
Once an Applicant has the Religious Activities Visa COE in hand, the next step is for her to exchange the COE for Religious Activities “Status of Residence” (usually abbreviated as “SOR”).
Technically speaking, it is the Religious Activities SOR that will form the basis of the Applicant actually living and working in Japan.
There are two methods for doing this:
1. Exchange the Religious Activities COE at a Japanese embassy or Consul outside Japan.
This is the traditional route for obtaining Religious Activities SOR.
The Applicant first exchanges the Religious Activities Visa COE for a Religious Activities Visa at a Japanese embassy or consul outside Japan. The process generally takes two to three business days.
The Applicant then travels to Japan and is granted Religious Activities SOR at the port of entry.
2. Undertake a Change of Status to Religious Activities SOR in Japan
In some cases, an alternative may be for the holder of a Religious Activities COE to enter Japan under the Japan Visa Waiver Program or some other form of short-term entry. The Applicant then applies for Religious Activities SOR via a change of status at a regional immigration office in Japan.
A change of status takes approximately two weeks. During that time, it is not possible for the Applicant to travel outside Japan.
Where the change of status route is utilized, Japan Visa’s certified immigration specialists can undertake the necessary procedures at the regional immigration office in Japan.
Japan Residence Card
Whether you receive your Religious Activities SOR at the airport upon entering Japan or via a change of status application filed at a regional immigration office in Japan (see Step 5 above), you will receive a Japan Residence Card.
This is an official identification card that includes an IC chip. The Residence Card contains personal information such as name, address, birth date, residence status (in this case, Religious Activities SOR), period of stay, etc.
You are required to carry your Residence Card at all times.
Consider applying for a Japan Re-entry Permit.
Up until July 2012, if you held a Religious Activities Visa and wished to temporarily leave Japan (e.g., for vacation, business, etc.) it was necessary to obtain a Re-entry Permit for Japan in advance of travelling.
However, it is now possible to leave Japan for up to 12 months without a Re-Entry Permit.
If there is any possibility that a trip outside Japan will last for more than 12 months, an individual holding Religious Activities SOR should ensure that they have a Re-entry Permit. This can be obtained at regional immigration office in Japan.
Some Important Considerations AFTER Receiving your Religious Activities Visa.
There are three particularly important tax matters to bear in mind as you live and work in Japan:
1. Japanese Tax for holders of Religious Activities SOR
People living in Japan under Religious Activities SOR will typically be working for an institution that handles most Japan tax matters on their behalf. This is done by way of withholding tax deducted each month and a year-end adjustment as part of the December payroll.
However, if you have multiple jobs or if you have other sources of income you may need to submit a Japanese tax return by 15 March each year. It is very important that you understand your Japan tax obligations since no extensions are available.
Complying with your Japanese tax obligations is essential in order to renew your visa.
2. US Tax for holders of Religious Activities SOR
If the holder of Religious Activities SOR is a US citizen or green card holder, they will continue to have US tax obligations even while living in Japan.
The US rules applicable to Americans living overseas are complex and constantly changing. In order to avoid possible penalties, anyone with a US tax filing obligation should seek specialist advice to ensure that they fulfill their US tax obligations.
3. Taxes when the holder of Religious Activities SOR leaves Japan
Before leaving Japan, the holder of Religious Activities SOR is required to fully settle her taxes or appoint a tax agent.
It should also be noted that Japanese local tax is assessed based on where you live on 1 January each year. As a result, departing Japan prior to 1 January can result in significant tax savings.