So after consulting with a lawyer and talking with people I recently decided to give up on going freelance for the time being, and I’m looking for a normal next job.
Speaking to a lawyer, Immigration doesn’t really care whether you’re freelance or not, but they need you to have:
- long-term employment (informally at least a year contract)
- from a Japanese company
- that is enough to live on (roughly three million yen a year)
And those all need to be in the same job. So, if you have a company that will pay you 3M but it’s for a short job (like three months), that’s not good enough, even if you have a backlog of contracts like that.
I was interviewing with a US company that doesn’t have an office (allows full remote work) and so specifically asked the lawyer about your #2, and they said that had no chance of being approved by immigration.
Assuming you have a job that fits the three points above, if your Japanese company is OK with you taking work outside you can then create a company in your home country (for example), tell immigration you’ll take work through that as well. Otherwise (if you were to take work directly) you are technically supposed to inform Immigration of every work contract you take on (since you’re a direct party).
The above lines up with patio11’s description of starting Bingo Card Creator; what I didn’t realize from reading what he’d written was that “having enough work from Japanese companies to live on” had to be in relatively long contracts - I have specialist knowledge and was hoping to do more one-off jobs, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy Immigration.
I assumed that the rules for places I worked if I already had a visa were relaxed but the lawyer I talked to indicated that basically wasn’t the case. The main advantage of already having a visa is that having a less respectable employment arrangement (like being a contract employee as opposed to a 正社員) wouldn’t affect my visa duration until my next renewal.
I did have one person who was seriously interested in hiring me under terms that would meet the above, but several red flags came up during negotiations so I’ve given up on that.
It’s possible I misunderstood something in my discussion with the lawyer, and I suspect that the rules are not always strictly enforced, but I’d rather play it safe with something like my visa status. If you’re looking at going freelance I strongly recommend talking to a lawyer; my visit was a free consultation and was very informative.
It seems that the best way to work independently is to either get a visa status that doesn’t depend on your work (like spouse or permanent resident) or to get a business owner / entrepeneur visa (経営管理者). The entrepeneur visa requires establishing a company with five million yen in capital, which is more than I can handle right now.
Anyway, hope that helps, and good luck!