Posted by debito on February 28th, 2008
Hi Blog. Although Terrie’s Take this week (yet another excellent essay) concentrates more on J citizens abroad taking NJ citizenships, there is also good mention and argument about J children in international marriages and the pressures upon them to conform to single nationality. As Terrie rightfully points out, this is ludicrous in a country which needs citizens; it shouldn’t be taking this degree of trouble just to put people off possibly maintaining a J passport just in the name of some odd nationality purity.
And dual nationality in itself would resolve many problems… I personally know several long-term NJ (and even some Zainichi) who would be happy to become Japanese citizens if it didn’t mean the sacrifice of one’s identity to having to choose. If you are a product of two cultures, why not have the legal status to back that up? Not half, but double. That’s what I would call the real Yokoso Japan. Debito in Sapporo
* * * * * * * * * T E R R I E ‘S T A K E * * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd. (http://www.terrie.com)
General Edition Sunday, February 24, 2008 Issue No. 458
With all the recent goings on for foreigners over immigration entry requirements, it is easy to think that the Japanese Justice Ministry especially has it in for non-Japanese. But that isn’t true. They are just as tough on their own citizens who want to be dual nationals.
After publishing Terrie’s Take 456 about our opinions on why the immigration authorities are tightening up, we received some interesting email from Japanese readers wondering why immigration is picking on them as dual nationals, as well.
Most readers will know that Japan allows only one nationality. However, for the longest time, so long as a person was registered as a Japanese citizen first, whether or not you had gained a second nationality was politely ignored by the authorities. You just had to make sure that you didn’t make it too obvious that you held a separate nationality.
But now it appears that things are changing and the Justice Ministry seems to be conducting checks on Japanese citizens living overseas to make sure that they do not have dual nationality. For a sense of the situation, here is an extract from one reader’s letter:
“…I recently decided, after many years as a green card holder, to apply for US citizenship. This was partly triggered by the increasing tension of the US immigration process, which has understandably changed in attitude since 9/11. The tipping point for me was when a lawyer in Japan advised me that although dual citizenships are technically forbidden in Japan, it is a law that is not enforced.
Before I could complete my application process, however, I was told by another person that things in fact had changed. I confirmed this with the authorities. It seems that if you are Japanese and you renew your Japanese passport at your local US consulate, when you go to pick it up you are asked to show your green card or other residency documentation which allows you to be in the US. If you cannot produce this documentation, and you wouldn’t be able to if you held a US passport, they won’t hand over your new Japanese passport. Apparently this is how they are now catching dual citizens living abroad.
To avoid this, I could renew my passport in Tokyo, but if I do, I have to show them my juminhyo [Ed: personal register of your residency matters]. That means I have to re-establish residency and live back in Japan for a few months — which of course is difficult to do when one has a career to fulfill.
With all the dual Japanese nationals living abroad, it seems to be bad policy to make people have to sneak around the dual nationality issue. Japan needs to maintain and grow its population, not shrink it. And chances are that many of those people living abroad are either decent wage earners contributing tax back to Japan, retirees who take their health care costs with them, or simply good emissaries for Japanese culture…”
Our thanks to the reader submitting this succinct summation of the dual nationality problem. Two issues come to mind: 1) not only people resident overseas, there is an increasing problem with dual nationals back here in Japan, as the children of 37,000 (approx.) international marriages a year start to come of age, and 2) might it be that Japan’s cooperation on fingerprinting databases with the USA and elsewhere will lead to an increased enforcement of the policy as well?
1. As a study by Sean Curtin, a former professor at the International University of Japan in Niigata found, the average number of children had by couples of an international marriage in Japan is 2.9, more than 3 times the average number of kids had by a Japanese-only couple living in Tokyo (national average is higher at 1.23). Further, of the 700,000 or so marriages a year, the 37,000 international ones comprise about 5%-6% of the total. By inference, then, it is likely that somewhere between 50,000 to 180,000 kids of mixed-nationality parents are born in Japan each year.
And each one of these dual national kids, most raised at home in one culture and at school in another, after turning 20 (plus an additional 2 year’s grace) has to choose which parent’s nationality they want to take. We think it’s a morally bankrupt question to force on those kids. It thrusts upon them the cold reality of the Japanese judicial concept of one allegiance, one home — also, we believe, the same reason why there is no judicial acceptance of joint custody of children in Japan.
It’s not hard to imagine that if the child has a parent from a poor country, indeed, most foreign mothers here are from developing Asian countries, then they will choose to be Japanese, despite any personal feelings of discrimination and disadvantage that they have probably been subjected to throughout their lives. If the child’s parent is from a first world country, then the choice is more likely to be for the other country.
And so Japan loses one potential contributor to its future, and gains a less than happy second one.
We interviewed some mixed-nationality kids who are nearing adulthood, asking them about what they thought of being forced to choose. The common response was that they wanted to keep both nationalities, but if forced, those that experienced the most discrimination didn’t want to remain Japanese.
2. According to 2005 government statistics, one third of all the approximately 1m (now probably around 1.1m) Japanese living overseas are resident in the USA. They are joined by an additional 115,000 Japanese who are considered permanent expatriates. Interestingly, the stats come from the Ministry of Justice, and carry the comment that it knows that a large number of Japanese living overseas are in fact dual nationals. One wonders when they are going to start acting over this information.
Perhaps the answer lies with the new immigration fingerprinting system being used on foreign residents and visitors. In implementing this screening system, the Japanese government has started sharing a US fingerprint tracking database, and within the year it will share with other countries as well. Although we’re assured that the data is private, we are equally sure that the Ministry of Justice will be “fascinated” by the opportunity to analyze migration data of Japanese nationals drawn from other countries’ ingress-egress points — something that they’re unable to do in Japan. In fact, this could be happening right now.
The scenario is obvious: a Japanese national uses their passport to exit Japan, then the same person should be trackable as they enter the USA. If they don’t show up, but they were on a given US-bound flight, then clearly they either have a green card or they are a dual national.
But apart from consular checks overseas, it is not clear that the government has chosen to act on a wide scale yet. Indeed, it knows many Japanese are dual nationals and until now has allowed people to maneuver around this inconvenient fact.
So how do people manage to keep both passports?
Firstly, they make sure that they are registered as Japanese first, since other countries allowing dual nationality do not require the new citizen to announce their new status to their original country. Secondly, in becoming a citizen of the second country, the Japanese national ensures that they maintain their juminhyo in Japan. This means that they pay taxes, vote, etc., just as if they are expecting to return to Japan. It is a cumbersome arrangement, but basically this is the price they pay for the flexibility offered by being dual national.
Thirdly, they use their passports in a way that doesn’t challenge the status quo. The rule for usage is important: Japanese passports for entry and departure from Japan, and the other nationality passports for entry and departure from the other country. Never show the other country’s passport when entering Japan. If you do, and if the consequences are followed through, the Japanese government can (and threatens to on its web site) strip the Japanese citizen of their nationality.
We end by saying that this is a crazy situation. On the one hand, we have a possible crack down on hundreds of thousands of people and a deliberate policy of alienating (pun intended) all these potential citizens. On the other hand, we have a government panel that advised back in December the government should spend up to JPY2.44trn (US$22bn) on measures to help counter the declining birth rate!
Since the number of people likely to lose their citizenship amounts to 5%-10% of the birth rate, we suggest that part of that JPY2.44trn outlay be spent on making a phone call to the Justice Ministry to prepare legislation allowing Japanese to do what many have practiced for generations — become law-abiding citizens of the countries of both of their parents.
The remainder of the money could be spent on nursing homes for those loyal citizens who decided to grow old at home…