Visa Status for Same-Sex Couples Residing in Japan

As the use of the term “LGBT” is becoming more common, social acceptance and awareness of issues faced by same-sex couples is also gradually expanding.

However, a foreign person in a same-sex couple (either with another foreign partner or with a Japanese partner) often encounters problems with obtaining a visa status that permits residence in Japan. This article explores explains the ins and outs of visa status allowing residence in Japan for one or both partners in a same-sex couple.

International Same-Sex Couples

Let's consider the example of a same-sex couple involving 2 foreign nationals who are legally married under the laws of their home country and who want to come to Japan, where one will be able to obtain a work-related visa status that allows residence in Japan, while the other is a dependent.

In the case of straight couples, dependent family members are granted a dependent visa for family members. A dependent visa for family members is a visa status granted to dependent family members who are living together, and, in the case of a spouse, the marriage must be legally valid. If so, it sounds like a same-sex couple should be granted a dependent visa for family members as long as their marriage is legally valid in their home country.

Unfortunately, the Japanese Ministry of Justice does not grant family residence status to dependent spouses in same-sex couples. Instead, they are granted the status of residence for “designated activities”.

However, in reality, there is practically no substantial difference between the dependent visa for family members and the visa status for “designated activities” since there is no difference between the details of the activities in which the holders of these two types of visas can engage.

In addition, if one partner will work instead of being supported, then he or she must obtain a visa status that allows the holder to work. This is true in the case of both straight couples and same-sex couples.

Foreign-Japanese Same-Sex Couples

A foreign partner in a foreign-Japanese same-sex marriage faces numerous difficulties in obtaining a visa that permits him or her to reside and work in Japan.

Although it would be nice if the foreign partner could obtain a visa as the spouse of a Japanese, unfortunately this is not possible since the Japanese government does not recognize same-sex marriage.

A foreign national who wants to work in Japan must have an appropriate work visa. Since work visas are divided into detailed categories based on the type of work, a foreign national cannot do just any kind of work. In other words, the foreign national is only permitted to engage in the type of work that corresponds to the type or category of work permitted under the type of work visa that the foreign national holds. Further, if you do not have a status of residence suitable for the job, you cannot obtain a status of residence.

Conversely, there is no visa applicable to a situation where the foreign national partner in a foreign-Japanese same-sex marriage is the dependent of the Japanese partner who works. In other words, the foreign national partner cannot reside in Japan based on his or her status as a spouse. Although it seems discriminatory that the partners in an international same-sex marriage can obtain residence status in Japan based on “designated activities” while the foreign national partner in a foreign-Japanese same-sex marriage cannot, this is in fact due to the fact that Japan does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Changing Situation

Although same-sex marriage is not recognized in Japan and related visas are currently handled as described above, the situation seems to be gradually changing.

Recently, there have been cases where same-sex couples who came to Japan and overstayed for a significant period of time because they were unable to obtain status of residence have been granted special permission to stay in Japan by the Ministry of Justice, and have even been granted the status of long term residents.

The Ministry of Justice explains that although the law recognizes the fact that a person has lived in Japan for many years (settled in Japan), it still does not recognize same-sex marriages. However, if there are more such cases in the future, visas partners in same-sex marriages may change as well.

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