Japan has granted long-term visas as a special exception to two Russian women who left their country in opposition to its invasion of Ukraine, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday.

The two women in their 20s were permitted to switch their short-term stay statuses to student visas without first returning to their home country as normally required, in a rare approval made in consideration of political views.

Photo taken July 21, 2023, shows the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau in Tokyo's Minato Ward. (Kyodo)

The two friends from eastern Siberia have an interest in Japanese culture and decided to leave for Japan last September after Russia ordered a partial military mobilization, fearing they might be called up to render logistical support.

They arrived in Japan in November after obtaining short-term visas for 90 days, subsequently extending their visas as they looked for opportunities to stay long-term.

After coming to Japan, the two women claimed that returning to Russia posed a danger to their safety as they had rallied support for Ukraine on social media and other channels. In Russia, anti-war movements face severe crackdowns and free speech is severely curtailed.

The two women, whose residency status change was approved in May, will study Japanese until March 2025 at a vocational school in Chiba Prefecture, according to supporters.

Japan's immigration law stipulates that the statuses for short-term stay cannot be changed unless there are "exceptional circumstances." In normal situations, the pair would have had to apply for a new visa at a Japanese diplomatic mission in Russia.

An official of the Immigration Services Agency said that while no statistics on similar cases are available, the granting of a status change for the two Russian women could be considered a special exception.

"We have never handled a case where (an in-country status change) was approved due to political views," said Nao Wakamatsu, a representative of Daiichi Sogo Group, a firm that offers administrative scrivener services in immigration procedures.

The two women told Kyodo News they are grateful to their supporters and Japanese immigration authorities for giving them the opportunity to stay in Japan.