Hello, this is Matsui from IMS Legal Professional Corporation. After the ending to a fun Golden Week, I couldn't help but flip through the calendar wondering when the next holiday is. I hope everyone has recharged thoroughly, so let's keep pushing until summer.

Now, if someone asks you "What is a visa?", can you answer accurately?

Do you imagine a visa as something:

  1. Necessary when going to a foreign country
  2. Necessary for staying in a foreign country
  3. Necessary for working in a foreign country
  4. Necessary for studying abroad in a foreign country

While none of the above is completely wrong, they aren't entirely accurate answers either. This is because there's a mix-up between "visa" and "visa status". Today, I will explain these two terms.

It's surprisingly lesser-known, but visa rules and immigration control systems vary by country. Here, we will discuss visas and stay permits as specifically handled by our company in Japan and the United States. Please note that concepts may differ in other countries.

What is a Visa?

A visa is necessary for entering a foreign country. Often referred to as the world’s most powerful, the Japanese passport allows visa-free travel to many countries, so many people may not be familiar with visas. Whether Japanese citizens can travel without a visa depends on agreements between Japan and the respective countries. For instance, there is a visa waiver agreement between Japan and the U.S., so Japanese tourists can generally visit the U.S. without a visa (though the ESTA is required for the U.S.), and similarly, Americans can usually visit Japan for tourism without a visa. Typically, visa-free travel is possible for tourism or short-term business trips. However, even in countries that allow visa-free travel, visas are required for studying, working, or long-term stays.

It is important to note that even if you need a visa for purposes like studying or working, having a visa does not guarantee entry. This is because a visa represents only the result of the application process at that time, and does not reflect any changes in circumstances after its issuance. Also, in both Japan and the U.S., visa issuance and entry inspections are handled by different departments, so their decisions can differ. The difference in decisions is often due to the varying amounts of information held rather than differing opinions.

Therefore, when asked, "What is a visa?" I usually describe a visa as something like a "letter of recommendation" for traveling abroad.

It is merely a “letter of recommendation” issued by a consul on the judgment that "this person can be allowed entry into the country," and it does not guarantee entry.

What is Visa Status?

Think of visa status (stay permit) as permission to stay in a foreign country. Both in Japan and the U.S., depending on the status, one might be allowed to work, study at a university, or stay for a long period. While a "visa" is necessary for the immigration inspection at the time of entry, "visa status" is required for staying in a foreign country, whether for a long or short duration.

Are the validity periods of a "visa" and "visa status" the same?

A visa has a validity period. In many countries, visas are affixed to the passport and include an expiration date. The validity period of visa status is usually determined at the time of entry inspection. While the maximum validity period may be set depending on the type of visa, it is often left to the discretion of the immigration officer once approved for entry. It is important to note the validity period of your visa status. Common misunderstandings include:

  1. Thinking the duration of stay is the same as the visa validity.
  2. Assuming the permission granted is for the usual duration.
  3. Entering the country with a passport close to expiration and not realizing that the stay permission is only valid until the passport expires.

All of these can lead to unintended overstays, a situation particularly common with U.S. visas.

Japan has a system called the "Residence Card," which, after entry with a visa, usually manages the duration of stay, making the above mistakes less likely. However, for U.S. non-immigrant visas, stay permission is determined upon each entry based on the visa, so misunderstandings about the visa system can lead to serious errors. Recently, the U.S. has been moving towards paperless entry processes, and entry stamps are becoming less common. After entering, it's essential to check your stay duration through the I-94 online arrival/departure record.


Visa status is typically determined at the entry inspection, but it can also be set through a change of status or extension of stay application within the country. Even if your visa expires, you can legally remain if your status is adjusted.

Today's discussion might be a bit complex, but understanding visas is essential when traveling abroad. Please be careful not to accidentally find yourself in an illegal status due to lack of knowledge.

Our company is always available for consultations regarding U.S. visas, so feel free to contact us. For more information, please contact us below ↓

Please note that this blog is based on information available at the time of writing, and you should verify the most current information at your own responsibility through official government sites.

Read this post in Japanese | 日本語で読む