Date: Thu, 1 Jul 2004 12:17:05 +0900
Subject: Japan Times on overpunishing visa overstayers
Hi All. Here you go. It may seem remarkably similar
to a longer, more thorough essay I sent some lists a few weeks ago, but it's
tightened down to 1200 words with new information within. Thanks for reading. Arudou
Debito in Sapporo
JAPAN TIMES, JUNE 29, 2004
THE ZEIT GIST
Immigration law overdoes enforcement, penalties
By DEBITO ARUDOU
(PHOTO: A banner hanging in Shinagawa Station announces a "Measures
Targeting Illegal Foreign Workers Month," sponsored by the Tokyo
Immigration Bureau, for the duration of June 2004.
Photo Courtesy Coal Restall, photographed June 9, 2004.)
With U.N. studies advising more immigration, and Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi's worldwide campaign for more foreign visitors,
Japan is not doing itself any favors with its new legislation on visa
On May 27, Japan's Diet amended the "Immigration Control and Refugee
Recognition Act," enacting stricter punishments. The maximum fine for
visa expiry increases tenfold from 300,000 yen to 3 million yen.
Banishment from Japan doubles from five to 10 years. Those who come
clean at Immigration before being caught will merely be deported
This is on top of already-tough detention conditions: Several days
confined to a room with other criminals (sometimes at a daily charge
of 60,000 yen). Access denied to family, a consulate, or even a
What's going on? The National Police Agency claims that hordes of
illegal aliens (estimated somehow at 250,000) are ratcheting up
Japan's crime rate. Last year, one plank of Koizumi's election
platform was halving the number of overstayers within five years.
Government has geared up for the task. As discussed in previous Zeit
Gist columns, the National Police Agency's "Policymaking Committee
Against Internationalization" (Kokusaika
Taisaku Iinkai), inaugurated
in 2000, is making its mark. There are now budgets for genetic
profiling research, public
notices nationwide about "bad foreigner
crime," and Immigration
" Internet snitch sites," roundly condemned by
domestic human rights groups as racist.
To be sure, resident foreigners have a legal obligation to keep
their visas valid. And yes, some miscreants do come to Japan and
commit crimes, and deserve incarceration or permanent expulsion.
But do the new punishments fit the crime? After all, equating
overstayers with hardened criminal activity (like burglary or murder)
overstates the seriousness of the matter.
"Overstaying" in itself is a bureaucratic procedure, not necessarily
a willful act to deprive others of life, liberty, or property.
Moreover, are all bureaucratic rulebreakers automatically criminals?
Japan's nenkin pension plan scandals have shown that politicians,
our prime minister, can forget to follow administrative
procedures. Yet do they face expulsion or incarceration?
The point is for overstayers, more administrative effort is
necessary to find the truly bad apples, and to make sure overzealous
officials don't overstep their mandate.
Consider two cases:
A university professor, who has worked in Japan for more than a
decade, discovered his visa was three weeks overdue. He went to
Immigration to own up -- which, until recently, would have resulted
in a lot of bowing and a letter of apology. But this time, after
being questioned, photographed, and fingerprinted, he was told that
he was now a criminal, warranting an indefinite period of background
Problem is, officials refused to issue any evidence that his visa
was being processed. Outside Immigration, he was still as illegal as
when he walked in. Their advice? "Stay out of trouble. And remember
your case number."
Contrast that with how Japan processes other forms of
identification, such as driver licenses. The government mails all
bearers a reminder before expiry. During processing, you get a
temporary license to keep you out of jug in case you get stopped by
But if the professor gets snagged for a random
Gaijin Card Check, he
might just disappear. With detentions short on legal advice or
contact with the outside world, what's to stop another summary
Case two: Another long-term resident recently went to have his
Gaijin Card renewed early at the local ward office. Previously, the
procedure took less than an hour and was accomplished in one trip.
This time, however, officials were adamant about seeing his
credentials, proof of workplace, financial standing, etc. "We will
check every phone number you give us," officials stated. Then he was
told to come back again on the day his Gaijin Card expired.
Problem is, his visa was still good -- for a couple more years.
Seems like having any kind of visa, valid or void, is in itself
becoming grounds for suspicion in Japan.
So now things are getting extreme. As this column
reported on May
18, even a one day overstay means incarceration, fines, and
expulsion. A fortnight overdue on five-year visas, two people
mentioned were on their way home anyway when they got chucked into
Narita's detention center.
Surely there are bigger fish to catch. How about targeting some of
the culprits of visa overstays?
For example, those in the skin trade. Since the early 1980's,
organized crime has brought in about half a million women
"entertainers" who, passports confiscated and visas lapsed, often
become sexual slaves.
According to theU.S.
State Department's Trafficking in Persons
Report (June 14, 2004): "Over the past year, the Japanese government
offered victims of sexual slavery little in the way of legal advice,
psychological or financial support. Generally, victims were deported
as illegal aliens."
Or how about Japan's companies who exploit government "Trainee" and
"Nikkeijin Visitor" programs, bringing in hundreds of thousands of
cheap foreign workers? Industries sometimes even prefer overstayers,
since the latter cannot go to the authorities if they get cheated out
of already meager wages.
Alas, standards are different if the perpetrators are Japanese.
Takeyuki Tsuda, Associate
Director of the Center for Comparative
Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego,
reports: "[W]hen the revised immigration law was passed [in 1990] by
the Japanese Diet, there was an implicit agreement with the Ministry
of Justice that it would not aggressively enforce new employer
sanctions law in apparent deference to the large numbers of Japanese
companies which need illegal immigrant workers to survive."
So let's get this straight. People thrive by bringing foreigners
here, give them lousy conditions and few civil protections, and then
blame them for rising crime numbers? A full third of which are not
"hard crimes," but rather visa violations -- often instigated by
Any hope for some improvements? Not if the voices of foreigners
continue to be ignored.
Even the Foreigners' Advisory Council of Tokyo, established in 1997
by former Tokyo Gov. Aoshima for more intercultural policy input, has
not met under current Gov. Ishihara since 2001.
I believe we are seeing Japan retreat back into its clamshell. The
approach of the Japanese government towards foreigners, generally
shameful, is getting worse.
The current fear of foreign crime is creating knee-jerk policy
controlled by conservatives, with less caution given to possible
mission creep or legislative overreach.
Smoother processing of illegals is understandable. But treating all
overstayers like hardened criminals is going too far.
So is treating legal foreign residents like potential criminals.
The end result will be Japan's loss of skilled and visa-sanctioned
foreign labor, who will be less willing to come here and brave the
hassles of just staying legal.
Send your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Japan Times: June 29, 2004
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