"GAIJIN CARD" CHECKS SPREAD
By Arudou Debito
AS POLICE DEPUTIZE THE NATION
Column 41 for Japan Times Community Page
Draft Fourteen, "Director's Cut", as submitted to the Japan Times. With links to sources.
November 13, 2007
In the good old days, very few Japanese knew about Alien Registration
Cards--you know, that wallet-sized document all non-Japanese residents
must carry 24/7 or face arrest and incarceration?
Back then, a "Gaijin Card" was only something you had to show a bored cop doing random racial profiling on the street.
Legally, in fact, it still is. According to the Foreign Registry Law (Article 13), only officials granted police powers by the Justice Ministry can demand to see one.
But in its quest to make Japan "the world's safest country again" (without similarly targeting Japanese crime), and to stem hordes of "illegal foreigners" (even though official figures for overstayers have constantly fallen from 1993), the government has recently deputized the entire nation.
From now on, foreigners must now endure frequent Gaijin Carding in the
workplace. Not to mention passport checks, and photocopying of
personal identification documents.
This open season on gaijin, as well as on terrorists and carriers of contagious diseases (which somehow also means the gaijin), has gone beyond fomenting the image that non-Japanese are merely untrustworthy.
It has created policy creep. Gaijin hunters in their zeal are stretching or breaking established laws.
Backtrack: After years of alleging heinous foreign crime and terror (Zeit Gist Feb 20 2007), the government first deputized the public in 2005 (ZG Mar 8 2005).
Laws regarding hotels were revised to require passport numbers and
photocopies from all "foreign tourists" (i.e. people without addresses
However, police immediately stretched the law, telling hotels to demand
passports from all foreigners. Some hotels threaten refusals if
the gaijin doesn't cough up his Card (http://www.debito.org/olafongaijincarding.html).
Now, as of October 1, 2007, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has chipped in, deputizing all workplaces.
Under the new "Employment Policy Law" (Koyou Taisaku Hou, see http://www.mhlw.go.jp/bunya/koyou/gaikokujin-koyou/01.html),
all "employers" (jigyou nushi) hiring, firing, or currently employing
any non-Japanese (excepting Zainichi "Special Permanent Residents" and
diplomats) have to check their visa status, verifying that they're
neither overstaying nor working outside their visa parameters.
This means filing a report at "Hello Work", the MHLW's unemployment
agency. Information on all foreign staff, including name, date of
birth, gender, nationality, visa status, expiration date, confirmation
that all work is permitted under the visa, and employer's name and
address, must be provided--with penalties up to 300,000 yen.
Proponents of the law, claiming it will "support the rehiring and
better administration of foreign workers", might well deter employers
exploiting overstayers under the table.
But in practice, the policy stretch has already begun.
For example, for reasons inexplicable, the "Regular Permanent Resident"
immigrants--who have no visa restrictions placed on their employment
and cannot possibly "overstay"--must also be reported.
Another issue is the law merely requires employers "check" the visa
status of their foreign staff. There is no explicit requirement
for foreigners to physically hand over any personal documents.
Yet several people have contacted me to say employers have demanded
both their Gaijin Card (which for ID purposes, works the same as a
passport) and their passport. For photocopying.
Furthermore, these "checks" are already not limited to your main
employer or visa sponsor. I have received reports that any gaijin
payment requires photocopied visa verification. In one case, for
a sum as slight as 500 yen! Yet my legal counsel confirmed with
the MHLW that checking isn't required for part-time work.
Conclusion: If hunting foreigners means tracking every yen they
earn, this new and improved Gaijin Card Checkpoint system goes far
beyond the cop on the corner.
It even voids the Gaijin Card. What's the point of its existence if "verification" necessitates passports too?
The justifications for this new system are these: You've got to
make sure foreigners aren't working outside of their official Status of
Residence. As we have reported (ZG Jun 28 2005), even taking a quick arubaito job can be a visa violation for some statuses.
Photocopies are apparently necessary because employers need proof on
file if they get nobbled by the cops. (As if cops won't ask the
foreign staff for their original documents if a raid actually happens?)
Moreover, sometimes Gaijin Cards and passports differ in detail, like
when the visa status changes in the passport, but the bearer neglects
to report it to the Ward Office.
But if all these loopholes needed closing, they should have been
encoded in the law. They weren't. So demanding anything
beyond a visual display of your Gaijin Card is policy overreach.
Now the floodgates are open. Unrelated places, such as banks, cellphone companies, sports clubs,
and video stores now illegally require Gaijin Cards for any
service. Even when other forms of ID, such as driver license or
health insurance booklet, would suffice for Japanese. What's
You know, Japan needs more lawyers, or at least more lawyerly
types. Anyone who reads the actual laws will in fact find a
natural check and balance.
For example, even if the cops issue their classic demand for your Gaijin Card on the street, under the Foreign Registry Law (gaitouhou) (Article 13), you are not required to display unless the cop shows you his ID first. Ask for it. And write it down.
And believe it or not, under the Police Execution of Duties Law (keisatsukan shokumu shikkou hou) (Article 2),
cops aren't allowed to ask anyone for ID without probable cause for
suspicion of a crime. Just being a foreigner doesn't count.
Point that out.
As for Gaijin Carding at hotels, all you have to do is say you have an
address in Japan and you're in the clear. Neither foreign
residents nor Japanese are required to show any ID. The hotels
cannot refuse you service, as legally they cannot deny anyone lodging
under the Hotel Management Law (Article 5), without threat to public morals, possibility of contagion, or full rooms.
And as for Gaijin Carding by employers, under the new law (Article 28)
you are under no obligation to say anything more than what your visa
status is, and that it is valid. Say you'll present visual proof
in the form of the Gaijin Card, since nothing more is required.
If your main employer forces you to have your IDs photocopied, point out that the Personal Information Protection Law (Kojin Jouhou Hokan Hou)
governs any situation when private information is demanded. Under
Article 16, you must be told the purpose of gathering this information,
and under Article 26 you may make requests to correct or delete data
that are no longer necessary.
That means that once your visa status has been reported to Hello Work,
your company no longer needs it, and you should request your info be
returned for your disposal.
Those are the laws, and they exist for a reason: to protect
everyone--including non-Japanese--from stretches of the law and abuses
of power by state or society.
Even if the Foreign Registry Law has long made foreigners legally
targetable in the eyes of the police, the rest of Japanese society
still has to treat foreigners--be they laborer, customer, neighbor, or
complete stranger--with appropriate respect and dignity.
Sure, Japan's policymakers are treating non-Japanese residents as
criminals, terrorists, and filth columnists of disease and
disorder--through fingerprinting at the border, gaijin-apartment ID Checkpoints, anonymous police Internet "snitch sites" (ZG Mar 30 2004), "foreign DNA crime databases" (ZG Jan 13 2004), IC Chips in Gaijin Cards (ZG Nov 22 2005), and now gaijin dragnets through hotels and paychecks.
But there are still some vestiges of civil liberties guaranteed by law
in this country. Know about them, and have them enforced.
Or else non-Japanese will never be acknowledged or respected as real
residents of Japan, almost always governed by the same laws as everyone
More information on what to do in these situations, plus the letter of the law, at http://www.debito.org/whattodoif.html
2007, Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan