The zairyu card law takes shape

Japan Times reporter Minoru Matsutani has been engaging in some unusually hard-hitting journalism in his recent series on the new immigration bill making its way through the Diet. In three articles, he went through the LDP’s perspective, the DPJ’s perspective, and the Immigration Bureau’s plans.

The third piece is the most interesting, as it takes on some of the strongest arguments against the new law: that it would be unduly harsh on overstayers and that it would inconvenience foreign residents.

Here’s the counter-argument on the first point:

If illegal foreigners turn themselves in, they may, under certain circumstances, be granted special permission to stay by the justice minister, or placed in custody in preparation for deportation.

The bills stipulate the justice minister must clarify the standard to grant special permission to stay to motivate overstaying foreigners to turn themselves in.


The bureau currently has no concrete criteria for granting the permit. Instead, it shows on its Web site examples of cases it granted and those it didn’t, but the information provided may not give illegal foreigners a clear clue as to what their fate may be, [Immigration Bureau General Affairs Division official Kazuyuki] Motohari said.

In one case on the Web site, a 27-year-old Southeast Asian woman was granted permission in 2007. She entered Japan with a six-month student visa in October 2004, dropped out of school and continued to stay in Japan.

She was arrested for overstaying in 2007, sent to the bureau without criminal charges and married a South American man, a legal resident, she had begun living with before the arrest. The bureau concluded their marriage was credible and she otherwise had a clean criminal record, it said on the Web site.

And on the inconvenience factor–the issue of certain changes having to be made at the immigration office rather than at city hall:

The Immigration Bureau is considering enabling foreign residents to report changes in workplace and apply for renewal of residence cards via mail or the Internet instead of requiring them to go to local immigration offices, he said.

Currently, renewing alien registration cards, which are to be replaced by zairyu cards, and reporting changes in personal information can be done at municipal offices, more of which exist than immigration offices.

For address changes, residents can go to municipal offices even under the new system. For changes in name, gender and nationality, they will have to go to immigration offices instead of municipal offices, but such changes rarely occur.

Together with the fact that this new system will give foreigners the same residence records as Japanese, as well as other benefits like free re-entry permits, it sounds as if the change is still, all in all, good for foreign residents.

27 thoughts on “The zairyu card law takes shape”

  1. The most interesting fact in that series was that Hosokawa’s version of the bill removed the requirement to carry the card at all time. Considering that this is by far the most egregious clause of the foreigner registration rules for legal residents, I’m rather disappointed there wasn’t ANY compromise. From what I’ve seen, the new law’s rule on card-carrying looks to be exactly the same as the current one. How about at least making it a non-criminal offense, so that the police can’t use it as an excuse for arbitrary arrest, with an annoying but more realistic fine attached?

  2. Incidentally, it’s very unfortunate that this bill will probably be signed into law only shortly before an election that at least has the potential to flip control of the lower house. If it waited for a DPJ controlled session it would probably get at least a moderate improvement, but if it passes in the current form I wouldn’t expect minor revisions to be an immediate DPJ legislative priority.

    “The Immigration Bureau is considering enabling foreign residents to report changes in workplace and apply for renewal of residence cards via mail or the Internet instead of requiring them to go to local immigration offices, he said.”
    That would also be a very nice change, removing pretty much all of the extra effort involved in keeping up with the new regulations. On the other hand, I am unclear how the new law would affect a situation like the one I was in when I quit my job after 1 year, but still had a valid 3-year work visa and stayed in Japan for a few more months, collecting unemployment from Hello Work before going home. Are there any provisions for a work visa becoming invalid if one is out of work, or is it simply a matter of reporting?

  3. While the new proposed Japanese system might result in some inconveniences for alien registrants its still a much better system than in the U.S. Japanese permanent resident visa holders are allowed to get multiple reentry permits that allow them to keep their permanent resident status simply by returning to Japan every three years and spending an hour or so in an immigration office. It’s really simple. In the U.S. reentry permits can only be issued one time for green card holders. The maximum allowed time is up to two years and is only allowed once. For U.S. green card holders that decide to return to their home countries for more than two years they are basically forced give up their green cards. For Japanese permanent resident visa holders their is no limit on how many times the three year multiple reentry permit can be issued. The whole process of trying to even get a two year max reentry permit in the U.S. is quite difficult. There is an application process then a waiting period of at least a month or so while waiting for a decision. In Japan it takes only about an hour. They stamp your passport and you can leave the country for as many times or as few times as you want for a lengthy period of three years. They’ve even trained many of their younger immigration inspectors to smile and speak English.

    Many rural municipal offices have some trouble handling the alien registration card process as there are often not many foreigners living in rural areas. In some cases they do not have any staff members that speak English let alone any other foreign language to assist foreigners with questions in regards to their application. It makes sense to move the application process to immigration offices that are trained to handle these types of processes. It only needs to be done once every five years. Such a small inconvenient price to pay to have permission to live in such a great country as Japan.

    When compared to the U.S. at least foreign residents in Japan have it pretty good yet admittedly not perfect.

  4. Thomas: Totally agreed, by world standards the Japanese is extremely convenient and generous, FAR better than alien residents get in the US, and substantially less hassle than I had to deal with in Taiwan (I think in 9 months I probably made something like 10 visits to one office or another). But just because it’s better than other systems doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room for improvement, or that we should be happy about the imposition of additional rules.

    However, you’re forgetting a couple of areas in which the Japanese system is worse: one is refugees, who are VERY rarely given legal permission to live here, compared to fairly large numbers in the US. Another is Japan-born foreigners, a category that does not exist in the US, who have to live under many of the restrictions of immigrant foreigners such as ourselves. Then there are the “trainee” visas, which allow guest workers to be exploited rather seriously, with little protection. And finally, the US also issues visa categories intended to easily lead to permanent residency and citizenship, with no real equivalent existing in Japan. While it is certainly possible to become a permanent immigrant to Japan, the current system feels more geared towards guest workers.

  5. “Another is Japan-born foreigners, a category that does not exist in the US, who have to live under many of the restrictions of immigrant foreigners such as ourselves.”
    Granted, but it exists in most of the rest of the world outside of US/the Americas. There are some advantages to Jus Soli, but also some disadvantages. All in all, I think it is highly over-rated, and over-rated primarily by people who were born in a Jus Soli country.

  6. Thomas: In the US, once you have the green card, you can leave the US for up to a year with no further documentation; you only need the permit for an overseas stay of one to two years (if it’s more than two years, they revoke the card). It’s quite different from the Japanese re-entry permit, which you need for ANY trip overseas, no matter how long, and which costs a chunk of money.

    Roy/LB: We discussed the jus soli issue at length last year; it’s nowhere near an international norm, and the US only adopted it to address the citizenship of former slaves after the Civil War. Some jus soli countries like Ireland have even rolled the principle back in recent years because of immigration-related problems.

  7. Yeah, I know we’ve discussed jus soli multiple times, and I’ve myself stressed that the Japanese jus sanguinis citizenship law is more in tune with international standards. I’m merely pointing out that there is this significant population of people to whom the immigration and registration rules apply that has no equivalent in the US, which you simply cannot overlook when making a comparison between immigration laws of the two countries.

    And while most countries have a jus sanguinus citizenship regime, I doubt most of those countries have a multi-generational population of resident aliens numbering in the hundreds of thousands. There’s a big difference in practical effect between rules that apply to, let’s say a few hundred people or a few hundred thousand, even if they are legally identical on paper.

  8. I agree 100% with your last paragraph, Roy. I just don’t see, and never have, how this situation in any way reflects on Japan’s laws concerning immigration and resident foreigners. It is not like Japan is denying those several hundred thousand people a pathway to full citizenship – in fact, Japan has actually lowered the hurdles over the years. There is something to be said for the fact that Japan could lower them even more for the Zainichi, making Japanese citizenship practically automatic to all who ask for it (they are, after all, either former Japanese nationals or the descendants of Japanese nationals, so Japan would be “restoring” Japanese citizenship rather than granting it to people with no previous claim to it), but even then I strongly suspect an awful lot of Zainichi would refuse to accept it, just as they do now.

    That’s not Japan’s problem…

  9. I have heard that in the 1950s, when the legal status of the Zainichi Koreans was first established through negotiations between Japan and South Korea, there was actually a proposal to allow dual citizenship, but for some reason the US vetoed it. I suspect that dual citizenship would probably be the solution most appreciated by the Zainichi population, but there doesn’t seem to be much, if any, momentum in that direction.

  10. “I suspect that dual citizenship would probably be the solution most appreciated by the Zainichi population”

    But many of the Zainichi population aren’t interested in SOUTH Korean citizenship…. so what to do?

  11. Obviously DPRK/Japanese dual citizenship is a non-starter, but I kind of think that a large portion of the younger generation at least, perhaps even a majority, would be interested in taking dual ROK/Japanese citizenship. ROK citizens already vastly outnumber “Chosen-seki” in Japan, even among the special permanent resident community.

  12. But let’s set aside the possible future of Zainichi Koreans for another day and stick to how the law affects immigrant foreigners on this thread.

  13. For example, I only someone on a work visa has to report when they change jobs, or is it also a requirement for someone working on a spousal visa? How about students with permission to work part-time? What about permanent residents?

  14. “only someone on a work visa has to report when they change jobs, or is it also a requirement for someone working on a spousal visa?”

    At a guess, it will be required of the spousal visa as well. While a spousal visa lets you work at anything, even current law says says you need to register any changes. It’s just that that doesn’t affect your visa status. Basically any change to the items on the card require reporting, whether or not they affect visa status (like residence, for example: Japan has not had limits on where foreigners can live for quite some time now….).

  15. Place of employment ISN’T an item on the card though. All my current card says is “留学”, but doesn’t say that I’m at Kyoto University anywhere.

  16. Mine has a work address, right above the “RENEW WITHIN 30 DAYS…”

    …I quit that job about 2 years ago, though. Guess I should get on that.

  17. Hmm. So do they list place of employment for work visas, but not your school for student visas? I wonder what possible logic there for that. “Well, if they have the wallet with their ARC, they must also have the school ID in there.” I wish I still had my old card so I could compare instead of just looking at my current one.

  18. I also had asterisks for both Occupation and Place of Work. Funny that, when you think about it. PoE is also listed for Spouse Visas, in general. Mine is.

  19. “For changes in name, gender and nationality, they will have to go to immigration offices instead of municipal offices, but such changes rarely occur.”

    Matsutani’s journalism could have hard-hit this comment a bit further. The changes may be rare, but I’m sure this guy from the Immigration Bureau has some titillating anecdotes of how the bureau dealt with their first transgender visa issue.

  20. “…how the bureau dealt with their first transgender visa issue.”

    I recently filled out a private insurance form that asked my sex, and gave the options:

  21. Now that’s interesting. Is there any legal jurisdiction that recognizes “other” as a category?

  22. Blue Cheese Rocket:

    Yes you should take care of it soon before the fine system comes into effect! Be sure to be extra apologetic and contrite when speaking to the bureaucrats.

  23. Roy Berman: It’s very true that the Japanese system is not perfect. The treatment of second and third generation Koreans in particular is disgraceful.

    Countries that have been actively meddling and benefitting in the internal politics and economics of sovereign nations have much obligatory incentive to receive refugees from repressive regimes when things go sour. Japan meddles in a more passive sense and it’s response to dealing with refugee issues is admittedly extremely passive as well.

    Trainee visas are much better than the forced servitude of many koreans during Japans colonization but quite a modern sad reflection of the past as well. Such “trainees” should have the same rights as other temporary Japanese contract laborers.

    As a permanent resident I wouldn’t want Japanese citizenship if it were given to me on a silver platter because it would mean giving up my U.S. citizenship (although recently this is hard to do even if you wanted to). But for those that have qualified to become permanent Japanese residents or have inherited the right as in the case of generational koreans their should be equal treatment in the application process of citizenship. It’s unfortunate that we live in such an unfair world where so many have to suffer in unfair hardship but such is the continuing and present nature of humanity. How nice it would be to live in a safe and secure new world order without borders. Until then I think living on a quasi insulated big island is the next best thing.

    Joe Jones: Yes it’s true that once you have a U.S. green card you can leave the U.S. for up to one year without any further documentation. However, upon reentry if for any reason the inspector at the port of entry feels that you have been residing abroad in that year rather than just traveling he/she can confiscate your green card and deport you. It’s an absolutely arbitrary decision at the point of reentry without any recourse or appeal. If such an action is taken it can then prevent foreign nationals from reentry to the U.S. even if if their home country is a member of the 3 mos. max visa waiver program.

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