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  • Metropolis & Japan Today: “Proposed NJ resident registry card creates Big Brother concerns”

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on May 18th, 2009

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    Hi Blog. To lead this week off, here’s an article about a subject I’ll be writing about in tomorrow (Tuesday)’s Japan Times. Beat me to it. But more articles on this, the merrier. This proposed legislation concerning the new Gaijin Cards cannot go without comment, even opposition. My Japan Times article will be voicing opposition. Meanwhile, enjoy Metropolis’s very thorough and well-considered version below. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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    Proposed resident registry card for foreigners creates Big Brother concerns

    http://www.japantoday.com/category/lifestyle/view/now-new-resident-registry-card-for-foreigners-create-big-brother-concerns#show_all_comments

    Metropolis and Japan Today, May 16, 2009 By Andy Sharp, courtesy of lots of people

    TOKYO —All foreigners in Japan know him. The 62-year-old isn’t particularly loved — he’s a bit of a square — but we’ve all had to live with him and even take him out with us every day. Like many of his generation, he could keep on working, but he’s recently learned that he may have to settle for his pipe and slippers sooner rather than later.

    The Baby Boomer in question is the Certificate of Alien Registration, or gaijin card, a form of ID that non-Japanese residents have been required to carry since the enactment of the Alien Registration Order in May 1947.

    It may come as a surprise to learn that, if the government gets its way, the card will be consigned to the bureaucratic scrapheap. The Diet is currently debating bills to replace “gaikokujin torokusho” with a new residency (“zairyu”) card, which would shift administration of alien registration from municipal offices to the Immigration Bureau.

    So what are the government’s plans? And, more importantly, what are the implications for foreigners?

    If enacted, the bills submitted by the Cabinet in March would revise three laws — the Basic Resident Registration Law, the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, and the Special Law on Immigration Control — with the government looking to pass them before the end of the current ordinary Diet session on June 3. Once passed, the revisions would become effective in less than three years.

    According to the immigration bureau, the government’s main aims are to simplify the administration of foreigners by having the bureau handle nearly all paperwork related to immigration and residency; reduce the burden on foreigners living legally in Japan by extending visa periods and relaxing re-entry rules; ensure all legal aliens join social insurance and state pension schemes; track the movement of foreigners more closely; and clampdown on illegal aliens such as visa overstayers by denying them the right to carry the new card.

    However, opposition parties, legal organizations and migrant activists have slammed the revisions. They claim the changes could impose excessive fines for failure to carry the card, make notification of status changes less convenient, and lead to undue dissemination of personal information and excessive monitoring of foreigners.

    One aspect of the revisions few would bemoan is the extension of the three-year visa to five years, and the removal of the need to obtain a re-entry permit for residents who leave the country for less than a year. The revisions would also give foreigners some parity with locals by placing them on the same Basic Residents’ Registration Network, or Jumin Kihon Daicho Netowaku, a system the government created to enable easy exchange of information between municipal offices. There is, however, one significant difference.

    The Juki-net cards distributed to Japanese do not have numbers printed on them, and the law strictly protects information on the IC chip imbedded in the cards. But as the revisions stand, numbers would be printed on foreigners’ cards, and a greater amount of data could be kept on the chip. While this would ostensibly enable smoother administration, critics have conjured up an image of a regulatory Big Brother tracking foreigners more rigorously than their Japanese neighbors.

    Immigration bureau documents state that, in addition to a photograph, the following information would be printed on the cards: name; date of birth; sex; nationality; address; visa status, type and expiry date; card number, issue; date; expiration date; working restrictions; and other necessary information stipulated in justice ministry ordinances. But with the documentation also stating that some or all of this data may be recorded on the chips, opponents fear what may be held in this “other information.”

    Masashi Ichikawa, an attorney involved with the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, is concerned about unwarranted access to such personal details.

    “The card could be used as identification at places such as banks and libraries, where the chip could be read and the card number recorded,” he says. “I fear that people reading the card would be able to tell how much money is in a person’s account or what books they are borrowing. Authorities such as the police and immigration would be able make inquiries to banks and other places to ask for information on a person’s number.”

    Ichikawa also sees disparities between the treatment of foreigners and Japanese. “The law on resident registration for Japanese permits only the card number to be recorded on the IC chip — not the card — and does not make available information from private establishments such as banks. We want foreigners to be protected in the same way as Japanese.”

    An Orwellian nightmare?

    However, Kazuyuki Motohari of the immigration bureau’s general affairs division says that the IC chip has only been put on the cards to make it easier to share information between government ministries, agencies and local authorities. He also fends off fears of an Orwellian nightmare.

    “Only the minimum amount of information would be put on the cards,” he says. “We’ll only perform data matching when absolutely necessary, such as to check whether a person works where they say they do — no more. The IC chip has not been put in for other people to read.”

    Opponents point out that the revisions contradict the government’s objective of keeping closer tabs on foreigners. Under the current system, undocumented residents, overstayers and asylum seekers can obtain a gaijin card and access to basic education and health services. But the changes would prevent the issue of zairyu cards to such people — effectively rendering these individuals invisible.

    It would still be a crime, however, for foreigners to not always carry the new card. The current law, which the immigration bureau says would not change in the revisions, specifies that aliens must present certification (i.e. the gaijin card) to officials such as immigration inspectors and officers, police officers and maritime safety officers, but mentions nothing about having to show the card as identification to private organizations such as cell phone companies and banks.

    The maximum fine for failing to carry the new card would remain at 200,000 yen. Yet the immigration bureau’s Motohari says he cannot recall a case in which a fine has been levied on a legal card-carrying alien who pops out of his house for a short time without it. Even so, opponents are hammering the government to drop this obligation.

    “Making all foreigners carry cards is excessive regulation,” Ichikawa says. “There are bad foreigners and also bad Japanese. We don’t think it’s necessary to oblige foreigners, especially permanent residents, to show their card on request. Even the United Nations says it’s wrong to make people with permanent residency in a country carry such a card.”

    Azuma Konno, an upper house Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker, says: “The DPJ is considering amending the revisions so people are cautioned rather than fined for failing to carry the cards.”

    Notifying authorities of changes in status, such as when you start a new job or get married, is currently relatively straightforward — you just head down to your local municipal office and do the necessary paperwork. The proposed changes, though, could make things more troublesome, as notifications would have to be made at your local immigration office. That means Tokyoites would have to squeeze onto the No. 99 bus at Shinagawa with the rest of humanity to the dreary office in Konan.

    Failing or forgetting to notify authorities of a change in status could also come at a heavy price. It would still be possible to change your address at your municipal office, but you must report it within 14 days, and failure to do so within 90 days could mean annulment of your visa — and deportation. Foreigners on spouse visas would have to report to the immigration bureau within 14 days in cases of divorce, or the death of a spouse.

    A contentious element is that a visa could be nullified if a person, in cases such as separation or living apart, is not engaged in “marital activities” for three months or more (something many Japanese couples do when one partner is “asked” by his or her company to relocate). The 14-day notification period and 90-day potential cancellation would also apply when foreigners on common visas switch jobs.

    The immigration bureau stresses it has considered the plight of foreigners and would take personal circumstances into account when making decisions on visa annulment. “We are considering other more convenient ways to make notifications, such as online or by mail,” Motohari says. “We hope to lessen the burden on foreigners as much as possible.”

    The bureau says it has held meetings to gather views from both Japanese and aliens. It also claims it has not widely publicized the content of the revisions because it wants to focus its efforts on getting them passed into law before it provides information to the foreign community.

    Opponents, however, insist the government hasn’t really listened to non-Japanese viewpoints and that the insubstantial press coverage has meant few foreigners are aware of the government’s plans, denying them the opportunity to protest.

    But with groups such as the Solidarity Network with Migrants Japan organizing rallies and hearings in which opposition lawmakers, Korean groups and legal organizations put counterarguments to the government, the revisions could wind up significantly amended.

    Moreover, should the government fall and a DPJ-led administration take office — a distinct possibility this year — before the bills are passed, one 60-something gent could find he has to put his retirement plans on hold for a while.

    How will the new card affect you?

    Pros
    - Typical length of visa stay changed from three years to five years
    - No need to obtain a re-entry permit when leaving the country for less than a year
    - Assurance that all legal foreigners will be placed on social insurance and state pension schemes
    - Administrative procedure simplified
    - Possibility to notify authorities of certain changes of status by email or post

    Cons
    - Notification of most changes of status must be made at Immigration Bureau rather than at local municipal offices
    - IC chip on the new card raises privacy concerns
    - Asylum seekers and visa overstayers won’t be eligible to receive the cards, resulting in possible loss of basic health and education services
    - Possibility of visa annulment if status notifications are not made within a 90-day period

    This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

    11 Responses to “Metropolis & Japan Today: “Proposed NJ resident registry card creates Big Brother concerns””

    1. Nadrew Says:

      This seems like a good thing. Sure, it’s not perfect, but neither is the current system. If changes in status could be made by internet that would be an improvement.
      For sure, “Assurance that all legal foreigners will be placed on social insurance and state pension schemes,” is a worthwhile improvement – if in fact it is implemented and enforced. As it stands now, greedy companies shirking their responsibilities with impunity are the rule. I have worked many contract jobs that are full time and have never had medical/unemployment insurance or pension even offered. Surely, a change could be construed as a good thing?

    2. Justin Says:

      “Opponents point out that the revisions contradict the government’s objective of keeping closer tabs on foreigners. Under the current system, undocumented residents, overstayers and asylum seekers can obtain a gaijin card and access to basic education and health services. But the changes would prevent the issue of zairyu cards to such people — effectively rendering these individuals invisible.”

      Why should Japan issue residency cards to people who are in the country illegally, or who have not yet been approved to enter the country?

      – I’ll answer the first part of your question in tomorrow’s Japan Times article

    3. one Says:

      @1 But what about those who make their living only doing part-time jobs and only formally being sponsored by a company (which, without exploting those teachers then, of course, is not interested in paying insurance fees) ? They might rather stop sponsoring, and someone who cannot pay for the years he has not joined health insurance might find himself out of the country if immigration does would not only “encourage” but de facto enforce by their decision ? If they are interested in having people join insurance they did not before, they should do away with the requirement of having to pay those fees for all the years one was not insured.

    4. Nadrew Says:

      You have a point about the back insurance fees. If in fact they do enforce vice encourage, then shouldn’t past employers be responsible – seeing as how they were in fact legally required to provide insurance in the first place and were never held accountable by the proper regulatory agency? I agree though, that protection should be in place to see that the worker bees don’t get screwed – either inadvertently or by design. Part timers have the option to get the national insurance through the kuyakusho/shiyakusho. If in fact they do not join, then yes, they should have to pay premiums for all of the years that they have been in country – perhaps a payment plan of some sort as it could run a bit of money. But, certainly this could be considered before implementing a new program? Unfortunately, as it stands now, foreigners are able to exist outside the system. I, for one, had no idea about having to pay back premiums until I decided to join the system. Luckily it was only one year for me. I went ahead and payed in. Perhaps another idea would be to have an amnesty for back premiums, or the government could pay because they allowed the situation to exist.

    5. Mark in Yayoi Says:

      Why should Japan issue residency cards to people who are in the country illegally, or who have not yet been approved to enter the country?

      Why should municipalities be denied the right to issue residency cards to anyone they choose to?

    6. Rob Says:

      Would visa annulment apply to permanent residents too?

      – Yes. PR is still a type of visa, technically. As in a permission to stay. It can be revoked.

    7. snowman Says:

      Debito, the PR is just meaningless here in Japan. The only thing you can do now is go for naturalization. I know quite a few people, including myself, who are currently going down this road.

    8. Joe Jones Says:

      Why should municipalities be denied the right to issue residency cards to anyone they choose to?

      Legally, municipalities in Japan have no rights. They exist at the pleasure of the Diet. It isn’t like the US or other federal countries, where the central government’s power is limited to certain areas of lawmaking. There is arguably merit in letting illegal residents register–I am in favor of allowing this–but the reality is that the Diet has full control over this process, and can change the process however it wants within the constraints of the Constitution (which provides for a freedom to reside and move “to the extent that this does not infringe upon the public welfare” or something to that effect).

      I could see municipalities coming up with their own local registration system if they are concerned about too many foreigners living “off the grid.” So long as the Diet doesn’t forbid this outright, the municipalities are not blocked from doing it. It’s a tricky notion, though, because anyone using the alternative registration system would automatically be branded as illegal. At least the “no status of residence” endorsement on alien registration cards is not that easy to interpret.

      Debito, the PR is just meaningless here in Japan. The only thing you can do now is go for naturalization. I know quite a few people, including myself, who are currently going down this road.

      Despite PR being legally a joke, banks and landlords take it very seriously, for reasons which I don’t really understand.

    9. Adamu Says:

      ***
      Despite PR being legally a joke, banks and landlords take it very seriously, for reasons which I don’t really understand.
      ***

      My theory is the word 永住 i.e. “permanent” assuages that all-consuming fear that the person will pick up and go home leaving a trashed apt. behind. But I dunno.

    10. Oscar_6 Says:

      the PR is just meaningless here in Japan.

      Could you elaborate a bit, please? Why?

    11. Billy Says:

      there are also Japanese who leave trash behind and head off overseas.

      I agree with “snowman “,
      The PR seems to become more useless except for getting an apartment but yet there is the nationality issue. Once the new law comes in effect, PR status doesnt seem anything different from working/spouse visa. but it does feel good to know that another human-being (pissed off wife or master-boss) cant use threat on your visa.

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