[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No.150 / July 15, 2009 ]

Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
The Japanese government has already presented its immigration bills as well as the basic civil register to the national Diet for their approval. This move has shocked the foreign working population living in Japan. From the start if last year's economic recession many foreigners have been fired from their jobs and now many have been affected by hearing of the proposed amendments to the immigration law. This all occurs just when programs to assist foreign workers have begun, like soup kitchens for the homeless, patrolling at night, and medical and legal services. The proposed amendments disregard not only the rights of over 2,150,000 foreigners from 190 countries living in Japan but also the recommendations made to the Japanese government by the special UN report of January 2006. The proposed bills do not sufficiently reflect the voice of foreign residents and, through the newly proposed immigration system, the Japanese government is being urged toward a policy of stronger control.
The new bills make it obligatory for foreigners to report periodically to immigration officials everything concerning their daily lives, their nationality, their place of work and study, etc. Again, their ID cards contain an item concerning the limitation of their job permits, and the door to obtaining jobs is closed on all foreigners who overstay their visa. Moreover, besides the personal data included on the ID cards, there is information from the police with regard to what organization they belong to and where they live. This inclusion of personal data shows an obvious effort at security control.
These cards replace the former foreign registration certificates and are issued by the immigration office as resident cards with an IC chip. Special certificates are issued to foreigners with permanent resident status who, from the age of 16, are obliged to bring and show them when asked to do so. If they violate the law, they will be punished with a sentence of less than one year or with a fine below 200,000 yen.
Yet there is no such law for Japanese who do not bring identification papers. On the occasion of this revision of the immigration law, the United Nations' Committee on Human Rights has recommended three times the abolition of the obligation to bring and show the ID card. Nevertheless, there has been no improvement. Furthermore, the items loaded into the IC chips of the ID card invade personal privacy, such as the possible inclusion of other detailed information like fingerprint data. The aim may be to control people for security reasons, but serious problems arise with regard to safeguarding the rights of foreigners.
On the other hand, there are some relaxations when compared with the former regulations. For instance, the time limit for ordinary residents to stay in Japan will be extended from 3 years to 5, and special permanent residents (about 420,000 descendants from former Japanese colonies) can obtain an extension of up to 7 years from the present 5 years, and they will not need a visa to reenter Japan for up to 2 years after leaving the country. Nevertheless, differently from Japanese registering their residence, foreigners getting special residence certificates for the first time are obliged, under penalty, to bring these and present them when asked to do so and to report on delays of registration and false registrations. Here there is no change from the former regulations. Considering the fact that permanent residents are obliged to register at immigration offices not only at reentry but every time they change their job or residence, the control system has become stricter.
Such amendments of the immigration law will result in victims among single foreign mothers and their children who may be obliged to go into hiding because of domestic violence. According to many, the new immigration bills aim at surveying and controlling foreigners rather than defending their rights. As a result, this move has provoked public protests and gatherings all over Japan. Such public demonstrations not only affect foreigners living in Japan but also cross borders to their families abroad. The repercussions will certainly expand further.
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