Hi Blog. Just sent to me by a friend. It’s important enough to deserve its own blog entry. Arudou Debito
Ah, human rights. I have just come from the Shinagawa Immigration office where I went to pre-register my fingerprints and photograph pending my upcoming Christmas trip to the US with my children. Here are my few observations with some venting, I fear, in between. Is the US this bad about this process?
1. Process is disorganized. A makeshift area has been set up at the counter where people apply for re-entry permits. The area is closed off by privacy screens, so it is impossible to find the machine where you are supposed to take a number. Many people, including me, mistakenly took number cards from the machine reserved for re-entry applicants. Eventually they stationed an immigration officer with a fistful of number cards in the vicinity, but they neglected to paste onto his forehead a sign that says “get your numbers here”, so there was confusion whenever someone stepped up to the area to start the process.
2. None of the officers in attendance can speak English, even though many people had questions.
3. The fingerprint machines were not working. Some people had to wait and then redo their fingerprints. They could not read my index fingers with the machines and eventually had to read my middle fingers. One woman standing next to me could not read any of her fingers despite repeated attempts with both hands. I have no idea how she will re-enter the country.
4. There was not an excessive wait.
5. The officers in attendance do not have any idea how the process will work for the exit from Japan or the re-entry. There were maps of the Narita immigration area pasted up on screens, but the attending officers did not seem to know what the maps meant and responded Shirimasen when asked questions in Japanese. And even more helpful, these maps were pasted on the INSIDE of the screens, not on the OUTSIDE where they could be examined by the hordes of gaijins who presumably need to know where to go when they get to Narita.
6. Most important, it seems that if parents residing in Japan wish to use the automated gate process when leaving Japan or when returning, they will have to be separated from their children. Children are not required to give finger prints, but at the same time, at the automated re-entry gates there will be no human beings to inspect the passports of the children. Thus, for re-entering families, it appears that the adults can go through the automated gates but the children, if they have re-entry permits, must stand in the line like we always did for returning Japanese and re-entry permit holders and will enter Japan separately. Except that, obviously, if the child is a baby or not experienced enough to do this alone, then they have to come in through the tourist line with a parent. So at the end of the day, if a family wishes to stay together, or has to stay together because of the age of the child, they must go through the tourist line (Yes, I know, it seems obvious that we need fingerprint taking capability at the re-entry permit line). This question was asked many times by parents who came to immigration to get their re-entry pre-registration, but none of the officers in attendance could answer the question clearly, and there is no information available in English to explain this. They could not even answer when asked in Japanese. I found out because while I was standing in line I asked my secretary to call the Ministry of Justice to find out the procedure. And of course, I let it be known to the gaijins around me what she had learned. Boy, let me tell you, there was a ton of frustration among these parents who had taken time to come all the way out to Shinagawa to pre-register themselves thinking to spare their family and tired children the agony of the tourist line only to find out that it was a complete waste of time.
7. Another confusing point in the process relates to the distinction between passports that are machine readable and those that are not. US, UK and other countries issue machine readable passports. Philippines, Pakistan and many other countries do not. For those countries, the immigration office has to put a bar code sticker onto the passport so that it can be read by the machines. This resulted in the creation of two separate application lines, one for the star belly sneetches and one for those who have none. Unfortunately, there was only one fellow holding a fist full of numbers. So the result was that he would call a number, determine whether the applicant was a star belly sneetch or one who has none, and then would allocate people to separate sub-lines. Then there was the comedy of calling out numbers in apparently random order to deal with the separate lines. Number 30, number 16, number 33, number 17. Very confusing, and they did not explain to people why they were treated differently, until I asked in Japanese and explained to a Philipino in the line, so that the information about the bar codes was thereafter passed down the plain belly sneetch line among the Philippinos and Pakistanis.
So, in conclusion, it appears that the much touted automatic gate line is useful only for returning businessmen, single residents of Japan and families with children over the age of 16. Otherwise, brace yourself.
Enough said? not sure what I will do when I come home from the states. Have a great day.