Visa Processing in Japan: Changes in Processing Non-Immigrant Visas in Tokyo, Osaka and Naha

STEP 1: DO YOU NEED A VISA?

In my first position as an immigration attorney, I was taught that a visa is simply an “invitation” to knock at the door of the country issuing the visa. Anyone entering a country other than the one of which he or she is a citizen requires such an “invitation,” or they must be legally exempt from needing a visa. However, visas are not the only type of invitation to enter another country: some persons, including citizens of Japan, may use “ESTA,” the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, to enter the United States as visitors – in lieu of a visa. ESTA, formerly known as the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, allows qualifying persons from certain countries, including Japan, to enter the United States for a short term visit without going through the process of obtaining a visa. To determine whether one qualifies for ESTA, and to complete an application, visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

STEP 2: WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF APPLYING FOR A VISA?

Be sure to check the website of the United States Consulate where you plan to request your new visa. Although the basic procedural steps of acquiring a visa are available on the United States Department of State website, http://www.travel.state.gov, each United States Consulate has its own variations, which are generally addressed on their websites.

The process may or may not require an interview. If a repeat traveler to the United States is requesting the same type of visa previously issued, and if certain other conditions are met, the interview may be waived. To review information about visa issuance not requiring an interview, see http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-niv-visarenew.asp.

STEP 3: PAY THE VISA FEE

Visa applicants, including children, are required to pay a non-refundable, non-transferable visa application fee –sometimes referred to as the MRV fee – before applying for a nonimmigrant visa. The visa application fee must be paid whether a visa is issued or not. The type of visa for which you apply determines the fee amount. MAKE SURE YOU PAY THE FEE CORRESPONDING TO THE VISA CATEGORY FOR WHICH YOU ARE APPLYING, SINCE THE FEE IS NON-REFUNDABLE. The following web page lists visa application fees associated with each nonimmigrant visa type: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-niv-visafeeinfo.asp.

Although fees are listed in U.S. dollars, payment must be made in local currency. You may make payment at any Pay Easy ATM. At these ATMs, applicants pay by cash; or, if you are a customer of one of the consortium banks, you may pay by debit card. In addition, applicants may pay online using Electronic Fund Transfer (ETF) or credit card. More information about payment options is available at: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-niv-paymentinfo.asp. To find a Pay Easy ATM, go to: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-loc-bank.asp.

Note that both the process of fee payment and the actual fees paid have recently changed.

STEP 4: COMPLETE THE NONIMMIGRANT VISA ELECTRONIC APPLICATION (DS-160)

Each applicant, including children, must have their own DS-160 Visa Application. The DS-160 must be completed and submitted online prior to scheduling an interview at the United States Consulate https://ceac.state.gov/GENNIV/default.aspx. The barcode number on the DS-160 confirmation page is required in order to schedule the interview, and the confirmation page should be taken by the applicant to the interview.

After completing the application, you will sign it electronically. By signing, you certify that all information contained in the application is true and correct. Misrepresenting facts could make you ineligible to enter the United States, so double-check to ensure that your answers are accurate and that all questions are answered completely before submitting the application.

To make the process easier, keep in mind the following:

The interview post you select when beginning completion of the DS-160 must be the same post where you schedule your interview appointment.

All questions must be answered in English using English-language characters only, except when you are asked to provide your full name in your native alphabet.

You are required to upload a photograph as part of the DS-160 process. Detailed guidelines for taking and submitting a quality photograph are available on the U.S. Department of State website, http://travel.state.gov/visa/visaphotoreq/visaphotoreq_5334.html

If you stop working on the application for more than 20 minutes, your session will expire. You will have to start over, unless you have recorded your Application ID Number or have saved your application to a file on your computer. Write down the Application ID Number displayed on the top right-hand corner of the page. If you need to close the browser before submitting your application, you will need this Application ID Number to continue your application.

The completed DS-160 application form will generate an alpha-numeric barcode confirmation page. Print this page and take it with you to the interview.

Once you have printed the barcode confirmation page, hit the “Back” button on your web browser and then email yourself a backup copy of the DS-160 for your records. The emailed file will be in PDF format, which requires Adobe Acrobat to view or print.

If you have questions about filling out the DS-160 online, both the State Department website and the website of the Tokyo Embassy post FAQ pages. You may choose, also, to work with a competent immigration attorney, since some of the questions are confusing. For example, the application includes the question, “Have you ever been refused a U.S. visa?” Even if a previous visa application was not immediately granted but sent for further “administrative processing” before being granted, this question should be answered “yes”. Questions that are not answered correctly and appropriately could result in the new visa being significantly delayed or even denied.

STEP 5: SCHEDULE THE INTERVIEW

Schedule your interview here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-niv-appointmentschedule.asp.

You can also schedule your appointment by calling the Call Center. Its contact information, including hours of operation, may be found at: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-main-contactus.asp.

To schedule a nonimmigrant visa appointment, you must have the following information:

Your passport number;

Your MRV fee payment receipt number; and

The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page.

If you have selected a particular day on which you would like to be interviewed, be aware that it may not be available for selection because it is too far in th future from the date on which you are attempting to schedule it. Check back at a later date, when your preferred date may be available.

STEP 6: ATTEND THE INTERVIEW

Arrive at the Consulate at least an hour prior to your scheduled interview to allow time to pass through security. Take with you a printed copy of your appointment letter, your DS-160 confirmation page, one recent photograph, your current passport and old passports issued in the past 10 years. Also take documents specific to the type of visa you are requesting, as listed here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/jp/jp-niv-visatypeinfo.asp. If dependent family members are applying with you, take proof of the family relationship, such as a copy of the family register. We suggest that you answer all interview questions directly and honestly. If you do not understand a question, request that it be clarified.

The consular officer will collect applicants’ passports at the interview and return them by mail, with the new visa enclosed. Most applicants will receive their passport and new visa within 14 days of the interview. However, some cases require additional processing, so do not make definite plans to travel outside of Japan until you receive your passport and new visa.

This article should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult an immigration attorney for advice specific to your situation.