Japan overdoing new visa overstay punishments
By Arudou Debito
(Click here to read June 29, 2004 Japan Times Community Page Article which arose from this report)
Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2004 12:38:33 +0900
From: Arudou Debito <email@example.com>
Subject: Japan overdoing new visa overstay punishments
Hello everyone. Arudou Debito here. Got a bee-in-my-bonnet essay to
JAPAN'S RECENT CHANGES TO LAWS ON VISA OVERSTAYERS
OVERDO ENFORCEMENT AND PUNISHMENTS
Despite UN and Prime Ministerial studies clamoring for more
immigration and foreign tourism, Japan is not doing itself any favors
with its recent legislation on overstays. Last Thursday, May 27,
2004, Japan's more-powerful Lower House passed an amendment to the
"Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law", which takes effect
six months after its imminent promulgation.
This amendment enacts stricter punishments for those overstaying
their visa. Banishment time from Japan has been doubled from five to
ten years. Maximum fine increased tenfold from 300,000 to 3 million
yen (more than a year's salary in most countries).
Those who go down to Immigration to come clean before being
caught are merely deported faster. This in addition to the
already-enforced incarceration with other criminals for at least
several days (sometimes at a charge of 60,000 yen per day), without
access to family, a consulate, or even a lawyer.
This measure is a consequence of claims by the National Police Agency
that hordes of illegal aliens (estimated somehow at 250,000 people)
are contributing to Japan's rising crime rate. Koizumi's new cabinet
last year annnounced a plan to halve the number of illegals within
Government organs have certainly geared up for the task. Since 2000,
budgets have appeared for the NPA's "Policymaking Committee Against
Internationalization" (Kokusaika Taisaku Iinkai), "genetic racial
profiling" research of crime-scene evidence (since Japanese, unlike
foreigners, are allegedly racially pure), nationwide public notices
warning Japanese (who, of course, never commit crime themselves)
about "bad foreigner crime", and Internet " snitch sites", where
anyone can rat on any foreigner anonymously for any reason whatsoever.
To be sure, resident foreigners have an obligation to keep their
visas renewed and legal. Ignorance of or irresponsiblity towards the
law is no excuse. And yes, plenty of illegals out there do in fact
come to Japan specifically to commit crime, and deserve incarceration
or permanent expulsion.
But do the new punishments fit the crime? After all, equating
overstayers with hardened criminal activity (such as burglary or
murder) overstates the seriousness of the crime. "Overstaying" as
such is a bureaucratic procedure, not necessarily an act
demonstrating willful intent of depriving others of life, liberty, or
And are all overstayers automatically people with criminal intent?
Certainly Japan's Nenkin pension plan scandals have shown that even
politicians can forget to follow bureaucratic procedure. But do they
face loss of livelihood or even incarceration? Even deadbeat Koizumi
remains our PM. The point is that more administrative effort is
necessary to sift through the truly bad apples out there, and to make
sure that overzealous officials do not overstep their mandate.
Consider two cases:
A friend of mine has lived in Japan as long as I have, working for
more than a decade in a Japanese university. Due to personal
tragedy, he discovered his visa had expired three weeks too late. He
went to Immigration to own up, but was sent to the sixth floor (a
near miss--the seventh floor at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau
at Konan, Minato-ku, is the "Floor of No Return") in order to be
given special handling. The good old days of getting off after
writing a letter of apology are bygone.
Here's the problem: Afterwards, his passport was never stamped with
anything like "Visa Renewal Impending". Officials refused to issue
any proof whatsoever that he was being processed. To anyone outside
the office, he looks just as illegal as when he walked in.
Contrast that with how Japan processes other forms of identification.
Driver licences, for example, get renewed after the millions of
bearers are mailed a reminder from the local government (in fact,
without it you can't renew). In the countryside, because you often
have to wait a week or two for your new licence to arrive from
headquarters, you are even issued a temporary licence to show you are
being processed. Keeps you out of trouble if you get stopped by the
But not if you're foreign. If my friend gets snagged by the cops for
a random Gaijin Card Check, he has nothing whatsoever to demonstrate
that he has done his bit to remain a legal resident. Then out he may
go--last week's amendment provides for faster processing and
deportation. With no legal advice or contact with the outside world,
what's to stop a summary deportation without due process? (as in the
Ken Massey Case http:// www.japantraveler.com/issues/0007/freekenny.html)
When questioned about this loophole, Immigration essentially told my
friend, "Remember your case number. We have no budget to serve an
visa expiry notice or proof of processing to all the thousands of
foreigners out there." Yet money has been found to post nationwide
public warnings about foreign crime, increase staff at Immigration,
and enforce further surveillance and enforcement mechanisms? I told
my friend to bring a lawyer with him next time he visits Immigration,
because once they get him inside their doors, essentially they can
process him any way they like.
Another case: Another friend, who has worked in Japan's financial
community for several years, 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 be checking all the
phone numbers you give us," officials stated. He would even have to
come back all over again on the day his Gaijin Card expired.
"Perhaps it was because I wasn't wearing a suit," my friend said
charitably. The surprise is that my friend's visa hadn't even
expired yet--it's good for a couple more years! Seems having any
kind of visa, valid or void, is in itself becoming grounds for
suspicion in Japan.
So now things are getting extreme. As the second link above
indicates, people who are even one day overdue are getting
incarcerated, fined, and banished for years. One case mentioned that
two people (two weeks overdue on five-year visas) were even on their
way out of the country anyway when they were nicked and chucked into
the Gaijin Tank at Narita Airport!
Surely there are bigger fish out there to catch.
How about going after some of the culprits of visa overstays? The
yakuza bring in thousands of foreign women, which, passports
confiscated and visas lapsed, can wind up as sexual slaves.
According to the Far East Economic Review (August 3, 2000):
[E]xperts believe that of the 120,000 Asian, Eastern European and
Latin American women overstaying visas in Japan today, as many as
75,000 are working under duress in a sex industry that activists say
accounts for 1% of Japan's GNP--as big as its annual defence
budget.... Activists... estimate that between 500,000 and 1 million
women have been enslaved since the yakuza moved into the trade in the
early 1980s. That's at least four times the number that historians
believe the Japanese military drafted as "comfort women" in the 1930s
Or how about the industries that exploit cheap foreign workers
(especially the illegals--since the latter can't go to the
authorities if the former cheats them out of their already low
wages)? As Takeyuki Tsuda, Associate Director of the Center for
Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California, San Diego,
writes in his paper entitled, "Reluctant Hosts: The Future of Japan
as a Country of Immigration":
[The revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act
(implemented in 1990)] maintained Japan's long-standing ban on
unskilled foreign workers and imposed tough penalties (fines of up to
two million yen--about $20,000--or prison terms of up to three years)
on those employers and labor brokers who knowing recruit and hire
illegal aliens.... [H]owever, the Japanese immigration law has
numerous loopholes that enable the importation of unskilled immigrant
labor through the issuanceof visas intended for other purposes.
Through these "side-door" mechanisms, large numbers of foreigners are
legally admitted under various official guises, but actually function
as unskilled migrant workers. With the frontdoor tightly closed to
all but skilled and professional workers, virtually all of the
estimated 800,000 unskilled immigrant workers in Japan have entered
either through the sidedoor or the "backdoor" (illegal immigration).
Sidedoors: "Trainees," "Students," "Entertainers," and Nikkeijin
"Visitors" to Japan
The Japanese trainee system is one important means through which
migrant labor is imported through the sidedoor without undermining
the government"s official prohibition of unskilled immigrants.
Shortly after the revised immigration law was implemented, the
Ministry of Justice modified by decree the traditional trainee
program (formerly restricted to official agencies and large
multi-national corporations) to enable small and medium sized
companies to participate in it as well. It is quite apparent that
the Ministry took such action in order to implement a sidedoor
mechanism that would supply labor-deficient companies with necessary
immigrant labor since it has been precisely these smaller-sized
companies that have suffered the most from the labor shortage and had
been clamoring for the legal acceptance of unskilled foreign workers.
Some had even proposed a number of trainee and guest worker programs
to the government....
The enforcement of employer sanctions against businesses that employ
illegal foreign workers has been even less effective than the
apprehension of illegals, with only a small number of employers being
penalized for violations of the immigration law (351 in 1992, 692 in
1993). This is obviously only a minuscule portion of the large number
of employers and brokers who hire illegal workers. According to one
Ministry of Justice bureaucrat responsible for immigration policy,
when the revised immigration law was passed by the Japanese Diet,
there was an implicit agreement with the Ministry of Justice that it
would not aggressively enforce the 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, often give them lousy conditions and few civil-rights
protections, and then blame them for rising crime numbers? A full
third of which are not "hard crimes", but rather visa
violations--which can be instigated by the Japanese themselves?
Then in comes the political dimension. I have mentioned in past
essays about the financial incentives for creating a "culture of
fear" (i.e. fear of foreigners creates more budgetary outlay for the
police). But did you know that:
1) An International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shinbun articles dated Dec
14-15, 2002, cited a study by Nara University associate professor of
sociology Ryogo Mabuchi, which in 1998 found that crimes by
foreigners were "4.87 times more likely to be covered than crimes by
Japanese." http://www.debito.org/ ihtasahi121502text.html
2) According to friend Chris Flynn (firstname.lastname@example.org), in his
April 21, 2004, letter to the Japan Times:
[T]he number of people who are arrested, turned over to the public
prosecutor (and thus included in "cleared offenses committed by visiting foreigners") but turn out to have nothing to do with the
said crime and are released.
In Fukuoka in 2002, of the 171 crimes in which foreigners were
involved (139 arrests), only 78 were indicted and 28 of those had
their indictment suspended, which leads me to believe that about 35
(25 percent) of those in the "criminal" statistics were innocent and
did not face trial.
Which means that even innocents apprehended and then released are
nevertheless statistically counted as criminals!
All this leads to inflated crime statistics, distorted public
perceptions and tax outlay, and great potential for egregious abuse
of the law to target, harass, and penalize people for what may
essentially amount to the crime of being foreign in Japan.
Or foreign-looking. I anticipate the day I get stopped on the street
and apprehended for not carrying ID (something not required of
citizens, but then as you know I don't look like a citizen; for
foreigners it is a penal offense.) When I asked authorities how I
should close this racial loophole, they said, "Just tell the cops you
are a Japanese. That should do." Reassuring indeed.
Any hope for some improvements? Not if the voices of foreigners
continue to be ignored. Even the Foreigners Advisory Council of
Tokyo (Tokyo-to Gaikokujin Tomin Kaigi), established in November 1997
by former Tokyo Gov. Aoshima for more intercultural policy input, has
not even met under Gov. Ishihara since March 2001!
Conclusion: I believe we are seeing Japan slowly retreat back into
its clamshell, as the culture of fear allows the conservatives more
say in knee-jerk policy and less caution over possible policy
overreach. The perpetually half-baked approach of the Japanese
government towards foreigners, generally shameful, is getting worse.
Smoother processing of illegals is understandable, but treating all
overstayers regardless of extentuating circumstances like criminals,
or treating forthright overstayers or even legal residents like
potential criminals, is going too far. I believe the end result will
be Japan's loss of skilled, educated, and visa-sanctioned foreign
labor (something which even Ishihara says he supports), who will be
unwilling to come here and brave the hassles of just staying legal.
June 3, 2004
(Click here to read June 29,
2004 Japan Times Community Page Article which came out of this report)