I’m Takashi Akeyama, a representative of the Niseko VISA & Immigration Support Centre. As the only administrative office in Hokkaido specializing in VISA & Immigration and tourism, we help foreigners living in Hokkaido, mainly in Niseko, Otaru and Sapporo areas, to apply new or extend VISA, to change the status, such as working visas and spouse visas etc..

In this article, I will explain whether foreigners married to a Japanese spouse can continue to stay in Japan if they are divorced.


If a foreigner wishes to continue living in Japan after divorcing a Japanese spouse, the main concern is whether he or she can obtain a status of residence. Whether or not you can obtain a status of residence depends on the length of your marriage, whether you have children, whether you have parental authority, whether you have work experience and what your final education is. Most divorced foreigners obtain Long-term resident (定住者)’ status. However, if they have academic background or work experience, they can also obtain a work-related status, such as ‘Engineer/Specialist in humanities / international services(技術・人文知識・国際業務)’. The following sections provide an explanation for each case.

Case 1 “Long-term resident(定住者)”

The duration of the substantive marriage must be at least three years.

In order to obtain “Long-term resident” status, a marriage of at least three years in substance is required. It means that the duration of cohabitation and married life must be at least three years. It does not mean that the documented period of enrolment must be three years. They lived together for the first two years of the marriage, but they did not get along and lived separately for the last year. Such a three-year period does not fulfil the requirements.

Couples who have been in a substantive marriage for less than three years.

The requirement to obtain “Long-term resident” status was ‘a marriage of at least three years’, but there are exceptions where this is not met. Even in cases where this is not met, there are exceptions where a “Long-term resident” status can be obtained.

Having a child.

The child must have Japanese nationality. And the foreigner has custody of the child. From the point of view of the child’s upbringing, if the parents cannot live in Japan, there will be no one to care for the child, so a status of residence as a permanent resident may be granted. In such cases, ‘permanent resident’ status is often granted even if the marriage has lasted less than three years. Conversely, unless there are special circumstances, it is difficult for foreigners who have been married for less than three years with substance and who do not have custody of Japanese children to obtain ‘permanent resident’ status. For such persons, the choice is either to obtain another work-related status of residence or to return to their home country.

Cases where the cause of the divorce is not on the foreigner’s side.

Couples who are unable to continue a substantive marriage because of problems on the Japanese side. For example, a couple who are subjected to daily domestic violence by their Japanese spouse, and continuing to live together poses a physical and mental danger. Another example is when the Japanese spouse is wasting money due to gambling or other forms of extravagance, and living expenses are not being paid into the family budget, resulting in the couple’s life being ruined. In such cases, the status of residence as a ‘permanent resident’ is likely to be recognized even if the divorce occurred after less than three years of substantive marriage. However, it is very difficult to prove these causes objectively. A one-sided self-report from the foreigner’s side will not be accepted, and documents such as divorce agreements or court records are required to prove this.

Case 2 “Work-related status of residence(就労系在留資格)”

‘Engineer/Specialist in humanities / International services(技術・人文知識・国際業務)’. 

If a foreigner has education background and/or work experience, he/she may be able to obtain a work-related status of residence by finding a job. In this case, a person who, before obtaining “Spouse of Japanese(日本人の配偶者等)” status, had already come to Japan and was working with a work-related status. Those who have graduated from a university in their home country or have more than 10 years of work experience in their home country before coming to Japan. Such persons are likely to be able to change their status of residence to that of ‘Engineer/Specialist in humanities / International services if they can find a work that meets the requirements of the status of residence. However, in order to obtain a work-related status of residence, the applicant must be employed as a full-time employee, not part-time. In addition, for the ‘Engineer/Specialist in humanities / International services‘ status, the content of your studies or major at an institution of higher education must match or be related to the job description that you intend to take up.

Status of residence “Skills(技能)”

Even if you have not graduated from a university in your country of origin or from a Japanese vocational school, you may be able to change your status of residence to ‘Skills’ if you have more than 10 years’ work experience.  The job descriptions that can be obtained with a “Skilled” status of residence are limited to “cook”, “processing jewelry and furs”, “training animals”, “flying aircraft”, “teaching sports”, “sommelier”, etc. If you have no work experience in these field, it is difficult to change to change of the status of residence to Skills.

Status of residence “Management(経営・管理)”

Foreigners without academic background or work experience who can obtain a status of residence for ‘Engineer/Specialist in humanities / International services‘ or Skills may be able to obtain a status of residence for ‘Management’, if they start their own business and set up a company. In this case, the company must be established with a capital at least 5 million yen. The company must have an office separate from the home office, etc. It is necessary to establish a company that meets the requirements for a status of residence “Management”. You cannot apply for a status of residence ‘Management’ until the company is established and ready for business.

In conclusion

In many cases, those with the status of “Spouse of Japanese” who wish to stay in Japan after divorce, change their status of residence “Long-term(定住者)”. In such cases, the conditions are that they have been married for at least three years with substance, or that they have a child of Japanese nationality with parental authority. Please check whether you meet these conditions, and if you do not meet them, you should consider getting a job and obtaining a work-related status of residence.

The Niseko VISA & Immigration Support Centre help and support foreign nationals who are trying to overcome language, cultural and custom barriers and live as a member of Japanese society. If you have any questions or enquiries about this article, or about the conditions or procedural aspects of applying for Long-term Residence, please feel free to contact us by phone or via the ‘Free Consultation Form‘ on our website.