How Long Can You (Legally) Be Unemployed In Japan?

You've had enough. You gave your two weeks of notice to your company, received your letter of release, and now you're free of the corporate shackles that once bound you. After leaving for the last time, you step out of the building, and then wonder:

Just how long can you be jobless in Japan before immigration takes notice?

CONTENTS

01. In short, about three months (or more).

02. Revocation of your Status of Residence.

03. The Immigration Bureau of Japan website.

04. What about the expiration date on the residence card?

05. "90 Days" or "Three Months"?

06. A note about your Status of Residence...

IN SHORT: ABOUT THREE MONTHS (OR MORE)

If you happen to have the residence status of "Dependent", "Spouse or Child of Japanese National", "Spouse or Child of Permanent Resident", "Long Term Resident", or "Permanent Resident, then you can essentially be unemployed for as long as you like (note that we're only talking about employment).

However, if your residence status is that of "Instructor" or "Engineer/Specialist In Humanities/International Services" (among others), then you essentially have about three months in which to find new employment before the Ministry of Justice will consider revoking permission for you to remain in Japan.

We say "about three months (or more)" because that's what's actually written, and things are not always quite as black and white as they sometimes sound.
REVOCATION OF STATUS OF RESIDENCE

While reality might not be so black and white, the law itself is quite clear on the subject.

Article 22-4 of the Immigration Control And Refugee Recognition Act (PDF), "Revocation of Status of Residence", details the many ways one can have their status of residence revoked.

From providing fraudulent documents in order to gain permission to reside in Japan, to being divorced or otherwise vacant (aka sham marriages) from your spouse for over six months, Article 22-4 extensively covers all the bases.

However, in this case, we're only interested in the part of the law that concerns itself with unemployment:

Article 22-4(1)(vi)
The foreign national residing under a status of residence listed in the left-hand column of Appended Table I has failed to continue to engage in the activities listed in the right-hand column corresponding to that status for three months or more while residing in Japan (except for cases in which the foreign national has justifiable grounds for not engaging in the activities while residing in Japan).


The "Appended Table I" that Article 22-4(1)(vi) mentions is as follows (click for the full 695x2941 resolution image):

Therefore, if your status of residence happens to be one of those that is listed in "Appended Table I", and you have not "continue[d] to engage in the activities listed in the [...] column corresponding to that status for three months or more while residing in Japan", then the Ministry of Education may revoke your permission to remain in Japan.

In this regard, "activities" primarily means "employment" - but it can also mean "searching for a new job".

For example, if your status of residence is that of "Instructor", and you have not taught in a public school for "three months or more", then the Ministry of Juistice (via the Immigration Bureau) may revoke your permission to remain in Japan.

If your status of residence is that of "Engineer/Specialist In Humanities/International Services" and you haven't worked in an English Conversation School (or at all) for "three months or more", then Ministry of Justice (via the Immigration Bureau) may revoke your permission to remain in Japan.

Essentially, by the wording of the law, you are permitted to be unemployed for "three months or more" (as long as you're still engaging in "activities") before the Ministry of Justice will question your residence status unless you have "justifiable grounds for not engaging in the activities while residing in Japan".

In this context, "justifiable grounds" might be something like not being able to work due to the effects of natural disaster, severe illness, or any other factor that is essentially beyond the control of the individual.

However, claiming that you couldn't work (or look for work) because you were busy traveling around Japan for three months is not likely to earn you any sympathy from the Immigration Bureau.
THE IMMIGRATION BUREAU OF JAPAN WEBSITE

The website of the Immigration Bureau of Japan mostly mirrors what is written in the Immigration Control And Refugee Recognition Act (translated from Japanese):

2. In the case of revoking the status of residence, as written in Article 22-4, paragraph 1 of the Immigration Control Act, and when any of the facts listed in each of the following items is found out, the Minister of Justice shall confiscate the foreign national's residence card and cancel their qualification [to remain in Japan]:

(5) Any person residing under the status of residence [...] [who] does not conduct the activities pertaining to the status of residence and has [engaged] other activities (unless there is a valid reason).

(6) If a person residing under the status of residence [...] has not continued the activities pertaining to the status of residence for more than three months (except when there is a justifiable reason for staying).


Therefore, as one might expect, the two are more or less identical in regards to content.
WHAT ABOUT THE EXPIRATION DATE ON THE RESIDENCE CARD?

Let's say that your status of residence is "Instructor" and that it is valid for three years.

After one year of employment, you suddenly (for whatever reason) become unemployed.

It's April of 2017. However, your residence card says that it is valid until April of 2019.

Doe the grace period of "more than three months" of still apply to you?

Yes, it does.

Regardless of how much time is left between (A) the date you become unemployed and (B) the date that your residence card expires, the "more than three months" grace period of not engaging in the activity/activities that your status of residence permits still applies to you.

In addition, you have to give notification of the change in your employment status to your local immigration office.
90 DAYS OR THREE MONTHS?

While many other websites and forums will state that the limit between becoming unemployed and being told to leave the country is "90 days", it's important to note that neither the Immigration Control And Refugee Recognition Act nor the Immigration Bureau of JAPAN website use the wording of "90 days" in relation to being unemployed.

Both state a period of "three months or more".

(Note: While the exact wording of "90 days" is written in parts of Article 22-4, specifically in section (viii) and (ix), this limit is for notification of changes of physical residence.)

The difference between "90 days" and "more than three months" may seem like semantics, but there's an important difference between a hard limit of "90 days" and a vaguer limit of "more than three months" (which is why we made the distinction earlier).

The wording of "90 days" implies that the Immigration Bureau will not take any notice until the 90th day, leaving you free to do whatever you want for 89 days as long as you're back in employment by the 90th.

However, it's not a case of "you have 90 days and then you're out"; it is more of a case of "we need to talk about what you've been doing since you became unemployed, and then we'll make a decision from there".

At this point, it should be stressed that is anecdotal and "what is written" is not always "what is done".

Some people might be able to remain unemployed for much longer than three months without drawing the attention of the Immigration Bureau; other people might be called into their local immigration office to have an interview long before the "three months" are up.

This is another danger of suggesting that there is a hard "90 day" limit.

If you've just been treating the time since you became unemployed as an extended vacation, then (as previously stated) you've been breaking the law, and that's not likely to impress an immigration officer.

Be that as it may, you have a legal obligation to notify your local immigration office of any change in your employment status within fourteen days.
FINALLY, A NOTE ABOUT YOUR STATUS OF RESIDENCE

To conclude this article, there is one more thing that should be mentioned:

If you become unemployed (or otherwise cease "engaging in the activities [...] corresponding to [your residence] status"), your residence card / status of residence does not expire after 90 days.

Your status of residence expires when the Ministry of Justice revokes it, and not until that point.

Until someone at an immigration office revokes your residence card and invalidates your status of residence, your residence card is still valid.

It certainly isn't going to self-destruct after 90 days.
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