How to bring a same-sex partner to Japan
On March 17, 2021, the Sapporo District Court ruled that the fact that two people of the same sex cannot legally marry violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which stipulates equality under the law, making it the first unconstitutional ruling in Japan. This has become a major topic of discussion.
If you want to bring your same-sex married partner to Japan, with which visa (status of residence) can you bring her/him?
Current Situation of Same-Sex Marriage in the World and Japan
Since the world’s first legal recognition of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands in April 2001, same-sex marriages have become legal more countries in Europe and the United States, including Belgium (since 2003), Spain (since 2005), Canada (since 2005), the United Kingdom (since 2014), and the United States (in all states in 2015). As of January 2021, same-sex marriage is legal in about 10% of the world’s countries, mainly in the United States. In Asia, same-sex marriage became legally possible in Taiwan in May 2019.
In Japan, the partnership system at the municipal level has expanded, with over 60 municipalities having implemented the partnership system, but same-sex marriage is not yet legally recognized in Japan. Same-sex marriage is not considered a legally valid marriage in Japan.
What about visas for partners in same-sex marriages?
There are different types of visas available for (1) same-sex marriages between Japanese and foreign nationals and (2) same-sex marriages between foreign nationals. Let’s look at them separately.
(1) a Japanese national and a foreign national
For example, a foreigner who is married to a Japanese national can stay in Japan with a “Spouse of Japanese National” visa if the marriage is between two people of the opposite sex. However, since the definition of “spouse” for the “Spouse of Japanese National” visa is “marriage must be a legally valid marriage”, a foreigner who married to a Japanese national are not eligible for the “Spouse of Japanese National” visa, even if the foreigner’s home country law permits same-sex marriage.
In the same way, a spouse under the “Dependent” visa is for “a person whose marriage is legally valid,” so you cannot invite your same-sex partner to Japan under the “Dependent” visa.
Thus, it is currently not possible to invite a foreigner who is in a same-sex marriage with a Japanese national to Japan with a status of residence based on the family related status, such as a “Spouse of Japanese National” visa. You should consider obtaining a working visa such as “Engineer, Specialist in Humanities, International Services” or “Skilled Labor”, etc., based on your final educational background and employment history, and live in Japan.
With same-sex marriage between two foreigners, even if the foreigner living in Japan has a permanent resident visa or a resident visa, he or she cannot invite his or her partner to Japan as a spouse for the same reason as above (1).
If two foreign nationals have a valid same-sex marriage in their respective countries (e.g., Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, etc.) and one of them has a status of residence in Japan, the spouse of the same-sex married couple may be granted a “Designated Activities” visa from a humanitarian perspective.
“Designated Activities outside the notification” are those activities which are specifically designated by the Minister of Justice for foreign individuals in the past, but not specified in the Notification on Designated Activities, and it is deemed appropriate to continue to specify the same activities in the future.
Work for partners with “Designated Activities outside the notification” visas
Same-sex partners are not allowed to work on this visa. This is a big difference from the “Spouse of Japanese National” visa, which has no restrictions on employment. However, with “a permission to engage in activity other than that permitted under the status of residence previously granted” (Shikakugai Katsudou Kyoka), it is possible to engage in part-time work or other activities outside the status of residence up to 28 hours per week.
Since Japan does not yet legally recognize same-sex marriage, same-sex marriages between Japanese and foreigners are not considered legally valid. As a result, the only way to invite a foreigner from his/her home country to Japan is to obtain a work visa.
On the other hand, if two foreign nationals have a valid same-sex marriage in their respective countries, they may be granted “Designated Activities outside the notification” visa.
As similar lawsuits are currently underway in various cities in Japan, the Sapporo District Court’s March 17 ruling that the inability of same-sex couples to marry violates Article 14 of the Constitution, which stipulates equality under the law, is a major victory for sexual minority (LGBTQ) activists and is likely to have a significant impact on future court decisions.
Our office provides consultation and application procedures for those who wish to invite their same-sex partners to Japan. If you have any concerns, please feel free to contact Amie Immigration Law Office which specializes in visa application and Naturalization.
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