What to expect from the new national gaijin cards

Yomiuri has reported that the Justice Ministry has formally proposed to scrap the locally-administered alien registration system in favor of a national system under the control of (you guessed it) the Justice Ministry. This has been in the works since last year and would have to be approved by the Diet as an amendment to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, so don’t expect any changes overnight, but these are the changes we can apparently expect from the new system:

Benefits for foreigners

  • Ordinary period of stay on work/study permits will be extended from three to five years, meaning a bit less effort and expense to stay current on registration.
  • The “trainee” system will be renamed to something more reflective of reality, and “trainee”-class workers will get more explicit labor law protection.
  • Special permanent residents (zainichi Koreans) will enjoy much easier re-entry processing. Departures from Japan for up to two years will not require a re-entry permit, and a re-entry permit will allow them to stay outside the country for up to six years (currently the maximum is four). The zainichi apparently won’t be part of the new alien registration system, but will get their own certificate instead. (They still have to carry it around, though.)
  • Centralizing everything at the Justice Ministry will probably cut out some of the processing time lags that exist in updating alien registration information (for instance, Japan still doesn’t know how many foreigners it finished out the year with because immigration and the city halls haven’t finished striking the records of people who left for good at year’s end). It should also spare people the shuffle of having to personally notify city hall every time their immigration status or period of stay changes.

New problems for foreigners

  • Assuming this replaces the existing alien registration system completely, city hall will no longer have information on the city’s foreign residents, which might affect the way municipal services get distributed (hard to tell, though).
  • In the same vein, since everything has to go through the Immigration Bureau, updating registered information like address or employer may not be as convenient as walking into city hall. (Here’s one blogger [in Japanese] who picked up on this drawback right away.)
  • According to NHK, one of the motivations behind this is that the current system does not “make it a duty” to report a change of address to city hall, which makes it harder to track the foreign population in each municipality. The subtext seems to be that there will be harsher penalties for not keeping this information up to date (right now, while foreigners are supposed to keep their address updated, nothing particularly bad happens if they forget to do so).
  • It seems that some personal information will be taken off the face of the card and put on an IC chip inside the card. Some paranoid folks hate the idea of the Gaijin Chip, but I am actually in favor of it if it keeps this information private to a casual observer. (The flip side is that when us foreign lawyers get carded, the cop can’t see that our profession is “attorney.”)

All this said, as David Chart points out, the Justice Ministry hasn’t been too bad to “good foreigners” lately. Although the new fingerprinting system is kind of annoying, the Ministry at least had the decency to give re-entrants a separate line at Narita immigration instead of lumping them with tourists (which was part of the initial proposal, as I recall). So it isn’t too much of a stretch to expect that they will ultimately work this system in a fairly efficient manner, even if certain points raise alarm on paper.

The proposal is now in the hands of the LDP, which will have to make it into a bill for the Diet’s consideration, so theoretically anything can happen from this point.

9 thoughts on “What to expect from the new national gaijin cards”

  1. Like I keep posting,here in Aichi we have nearly one out of two working population of resident Brazilians losing their jobs.And when they lose jobs,they will also lose their residence since most were owned by their company.
    Those who don’t have enough money share their flats with others and move to another on weekly basis,which make alien registration system by local government meaningless.

  2. “Ordinary period of stay on work/study permits will be extended from three to five years, meaning a bit less effort and expense to stay current on registration.”
    When I was working in the office at Ritsumeikan in 2007 and helped a foreign professor fill out his visa extension, they gave him a new form that had a space for a 5 year visa (which didn’t exist at the time), but which was voided and replaced with 3 years when they actually filled in the form.

    So where will foreigners go to change their registered address then? Immigration offices are a LOT scarcer than city halls/ward offices.

    “It seems that some personal information will be taken off the face of the card and put on an IC chip inside the card. Some paranoid folks hate the idea of the Gaijin Chip, but I am actually in favor of it if it keeps this information private to a casual observer.”
    Depends on the type of chip they use. If it’s an old fashioned smart card which requires direct electrical connections, then it’s pretty secure. However, if it’s an RFID chip it will be possible to read it from inside your wallet a couple of meters away. Time to buy one of those wallets with the RF-blocking metal strips in them?

  3. I think the system actually has the potential to be more convenient.

    For one thing, the Justice Ministry is responsible for checking your passport when you enter Japan. So at least in theory, they could get you into their own system the moment you arrive in Japan on a new visa. This saves you the first trip to city hall.

    As far as updates go, there are many possibilities:

    1) A lot of small immigration offices scattered around the country. Not as many as there are city halls, granted, but still a pretty decent number.

    2) Replace the current alien registration desks at each city hall with a terminal networked into the MOJ database. It would basically be just like the situation today.

    3) Run alien registration through the Legal Affairs Bureau in each major city. Less convenient than city halls but more convenient than immigration offices themselves, and already MOJ property.

    Am I being optimistic? Maybe. We’ll have to see how the details develop.

  4. Better idea.Why not implant chips deep inside of your nostril or somewhere at Narita immigration?That would make everyone more convenient….

    I also want make the device would automatically explodes once you decide to write a book dissing Japan and move onto Thailand for good…..Kidding.

    Bad joke aside,I have a feeling we are moving more and more to the road of issuing national ID card,something Japanese have been avoiding for years.
    Considering we are getting more foreign residents,and more people living on welfare for various reasons,and more spending time at medical center due to the arrival of the aging society,the demand for the ID card will rise as the years go by.

  5. Nice article Joe, and I like your idea of installing your IC-Card-reading terminals at city hall for easy update, and the city can also capture your details at the same time.

    There’s a lot of scare stories about RFID – the passport ones are readable from a distance by design, but the standard ones in credit cards are not. Well, in theory they are, as long as they are reasonably-well isolated and other conditions that don’t really apply in real life, and with a wallet-full of RFID (I have about six in mine) I don’t think you can get a clear signal for a remote read.

    The professional gaijin victims will get lots and lots of mileage out of this, so thanks for the level-headed approach here.

  6. Even Debito admitted that SOME of the changes in the proposed new immigration law are improvements. As it stands now, a lot of the new requirements are still too vague to know whether they’ll actually be improvements or … deprovements? It’s totally appropriate to speculate on possibly implementations that will make things worse, but it’s definitely premature to get hysterical before there are actually any substantial hints about what the new registration system will be.

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