CRIME HYSTERIA FUELING REJECTIONS

Chinese being frozen out of student visa process

by Tomoko Otake

Things are looking pretty grim for Chinese students who have their sights set on pursuing their Japanese language studies here.

According to a poll conducted by The Japan Times, the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau has denied visas to more than 70 percent of Chinese students who have applied to study Japanese here in the coming academic year.

The paper last week contacted 355 of some 400 Japanese language schools nationwide, asking them how many “precollege student” visa applications they had filed on behalf of prospective students for the school year beginning in April. A total of 122 schools had responded to the fax/e-mail survey by Tuesday.

The poll shows that, of the 3,818 visa applications filed by schools on behalf of Chinese students, just 1,034, or 27.1 percent, were granted. Among non-Chinese students, the acceptance rate stood at 87.6 percent, with 2,043 out of 2,332 applications being approved.

The Immigration Bureau itself does not release the number of visas granted until later this year. Some regional bureaus have announced the number of visas sought and granted, but do not give a breakdown by nationality.

With regard to Chinese applicants, the figures garnered by The Japan Times’ poll are especially dismal for schools in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.

Among the 60 schools that responded to the survey in Tokyo, the acceptance rate for Chinese applicants stood 19.1 percent. Among the 24 schools that responded in nine surrounding prefectures, the rate was 18.7 percent.

The figures reflect a new policy issued by the bureau in November, which outlines stricter screening procedures for those applying for “ryugaku” and “shugaku” visas from countries with the highest number of visa overstayers — China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Mongolia.

As of January 2003, the number of overstaying foreigners who had come here on precollege student visas stood at 9,779. Of these, Chinese made up the largest group, with 7,920, followed by 624 South Koreans, 373 Filipinos and 302 Myanmarese.

For Bangladeshis and Mongolians, the number of overstayers is marginal, but the percentage is high, according to bureau officials.

College student visas, or ryugaku visas, are issued primarily to those who study at colleges, while precollege student visas, called shugaku visas are issued to those who study at Japanese language schools.

In particular, the policy has severely affected shugaku applicants from China — who make up nearly 70 percent of all students in this category. In 2002, the number of newly arriving foreigners with precollege student visas stood at 25,948, including 17,720 Chinese.

While immigration officials say the nation’s overall stance on accepting foreign students has not changed, their actions seem to represent a significant shift.

With increasing regularity, police and immigration authorities are asserting that shugaku visas are often used by foreigners to enter Japan and work here illegally — and even to engage in criminal activities.

But many officials at Japanese language schools question the efficacy of the new procedures, claiming that the move has blocked the entry of serious, dedicated students.

“Is the measure effective in screening good students from bad?” asked the president of a Tokyo school who wished to remain anonymous.

“Of course, no crimes will be committed if no one is accepted. But I don’t see merits to this measure other than that.”

Foreigners applying to Japanese language schools must submit evidence of their financial ability to pursue their studies here.

Previously, the bureau had divided Japanese language schools into two categories, giving preferential treatment to schools in which 5 percent or fewer enrollees had overstayed their visas.

These institutions, which make up roughly 60 percent of all Japanese language schools, were allowed to apply for yearlong visas, while schools with a less impressive track record were allowed to apply for visas that are valid for six months.

The former group of schools also had most of their visa requests approved.

But now, all schools must submit reams of information about each applicant to immigration authorities, including the academic background of the sponsors and proof of how their financial assets have been accumulated.

Some school officials are also fuming over the blacklisting of certain Japanese language schools in China.

To obtain precollege student visas, foreigners must show they have passed Level 4 of the Japanese language proficiency test administered by the Association of International Education Japan — or have completed 150 hours of Japanese language study abroad.

The bureau has blacklisted a certain group of Japanese language schools in China with dubious teaching records — based on interviews with applicants from last year — and has refused visas across the board to students from these schools this time.

The bureau has not released the names of these schools.

“Applicants are going to the schools without knowing that their schools are blacklisted,” the official at the Tokyo school said. “Besides, why do they need to be so tough about the Japanese language ability of people who are coming here to study Japanese?”

But the wind is against many Japanese language schools, some of which will probably go bankrupt in the coming months. Police and immigration officials are getting increasingly vocal about what they claim are the “worsening” crimes committed by foreigners in Japan, especially Chinese.

The June 2003 murder of a Fukuoka family, for which Chinese students stand accused, has further hardened the authorities’ stance, experts say.

During a December symposium held by Japanese language schools in Tokyo, a Metropolitan Police Department official briefed participants on the state of crimes by foreigners, claiming that the percentage of heinous crimes committed by newly arriving foreigners — which refer to foreigners other than permanent residents and U.S. military personnel — are “extremely high.”

“In particular, heinous crimes committed by Chinese make up 65 percent of the total, showing an exceedingly high percentage compared with other nationals,” the official said.

An Osaka school official who responded to the survey suspects the bureau was determined to reduce the number of Chinese enrollees, now that the government’s goal of accepting 100,000 foreign students has been achieved.

Last year, Japan achieved its goal — set in 1983 — to accept 100,000 students from abroad at the turn of the century.

The idea was proposed by then Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone to enhance international understanding and help developing countries develop human resources.

The number of foreign college students, which stood at just 10,428 in 1983, reached 109,508 last year. Of these, 64.7 percent hailed from China, while 14.5 percent came from South Korea and 3.9 percent from Taiwan.

The precipitous fall in the number of precollege students is sure to push the number down below 100,000, as most college-level students from abroad are graduates of Japanese language schools in Japan, said Atsushi Kamata, president of AIK Inc., a Tokyo-based firm that offers consulting and other services to Japanese language schools.

“Japanese is a local language of the Far East,” he said. “There is no way Japan will be able to attract many students from other parts of the world. China is a developing country and its legal system is also in its developing stage. Japanese authorities are asking for proof students can’t produce.”

But Shigeru Takaya, head of the entry and status division of the Immigration Bureau, said it is “merely detecting lies” in application papers.

If the number of foreign students dips below 100,000, it only means that those who were only pretending that they wanted to come here to study have been weeded out, he said.

“Were those people who had come here on student visas real students?” he asked. “Even if they have the will to study, they are not real students if they are unable to (study fully due to financial constraints).”

The education ministry, whose panel released a report in December calling for more foreign students to be accepted, expressed regret that the nation will see fewer students from abroad. The foreign student population at Japanese colleges still pales in comparison with those in other advanced nations, according to ministry official Kenichi Tanaka.

“Every student has his or her own financial circumstances,” Tanaka said. “Please don’t dismiss students based on their nationality, and instead consider each application carefully.”