Foreigner registration system to be revised

May lead to better services, more control

by Jun Hongo

The government plans to abolish the current registration system for foreigners living in Japan and introduce a new regime similar to that for Japanese residents that will manage them on a household basis, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said Friday.

The new arrangement, which is being examined by a team at the Justice Ministry and the internal affairs ministry, is expected to introduce a new registry system under which detailed information of foreign residents on a household basis, instead of an individual basis, will be kept by local governments.

Critics view the new system, however, as increased state control.

Under the current general registration law it is a requirement for foreign residents’ births, deaths and marriages to be reported. But the new alien registration law will make it easier for local governments to collect such information from foreigners.

Local officials often claim it is difficult for them to provide foreign nationals with information in areas such as school enrollment, health insurance and residence tax procedures. Some are also concerned about crimes committed by foreign nationals.

While the new system may help local authorities improve their services for foreign residents, some critics say it is likely to increase governmental control over foreign residents in Japan.

Hatoyama said Friday he hopes to submit a bill to abolish the current Alien Registration Law to enable the new arrangement to be passed in the next ordinary Diet session. The plan surfaced as a result of the government’s decision last June to revise the foreign registration system by 2009 to better cope with local government needs.

“Details have not been finalized and we are not at the point of revealing” the new regulations, a spokesman for the Immigration Control Office said, but the finalized outline of the law is expected to be released this spring.

Under the Alien Registration Law enacted in 1952, all foreigners in Japan are obliged to apply for registration with the local government of their residence.

Currently, only photographs, passport and registration forms are required for the process, which are used to clarify matters pertaining to their residence and status. There were 2.08 million registered foreigners in Japan at the end of 2006.

The government is also considering replacing the current alien registration cards, which foreign residents are required to carry at all times, with a new certificate card.

Under the new system, long-term foreign residents will get registration cards at airports and local immigration offices, which will then be used to register their information at local governments.

The data will be controlled in a similar manner as for Japanese citizens, and used to compile information for taxation, health insurance programs and census-taking. Special permanent residents, including those in Japan before the war and their descendants, are also expected to be listed in the new registry system.

Makoto Miyaguchi, an official of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture, which has a large Brazilian population, said the current law is not sufficient to provide administrative services for foreigners in his city.

“Since the current system does not gather detailed information, we have often been unable to give adequate services for foreigners in the area,” including school guidance for parents and information on welfare services, he said.

Approximately 10 percent, or 50,000 residents, in Minokamo are registered foreigners.

Miyaguchi said that both his city and its foreign population will benefit from the overall detailed management, since it will be able to better track locations and the status of foreign individuals and households.

But while some suggest that the new system will view foreigners as legitimate residents instead of objects of supervision, others say it will only strengthen government control over foreigners while providing minimal improvement in their lives.

Yoji Shimada, a Tochigi Prefecture-based public notary, said that although a change in the defective Alien Registration Law is welcome, the proposal so far shows no extensive improvement.

“Foreigners will still be listed on a separate ledger from Japanese residents, and they will most likely be required to carry their IDs at all times,” said Shimada, who is married to a Thai.

Shimada said that information on households may become more accessible by local governments, but discriminatory clauses will likely remain. “The Justice Ministry will have better control and more information on foreigners in Japan — and that seems to be the only change in the proposal for the new law,” he said.