Immigration reforms spell Big Brother, JFBA warns

by Minoru Matsutani

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations and nonprofit organizations voiced concern Wednesday that bills to revise immigration laws will violate the human rights of foreign residents.

The bills were submitted to the Diet earlier this month and will be deliberated on soon.

Critics of the bills also said punishments for violators of the revised laws, including a fine of up to ¥200,000 for those not carrying the new “zairyu” (residence) card that will replace the current alien registration cards, are too harsh.

The bills propose consolidating the management of foreign residents’ data under the Justice Ministry, replacing the current system in which local governments take charge of foreign resident registration, while the ministry handles immigration control.

“Overall, the revision greatly lacks consideration of foreigners’ privacy. The level of consideration is so much lower than that for Japanese,” Mitsuru Namba, a lawyer and member of the JFBA’s human rights protection committee, told reporters in Tokyo.

Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima, who was at the briefing, is ready to oppose the government in the House of Councilors. “The bills suggest monitoring of foreigners will be strengthened. Management of information will lead to surveillance of foreigners,” she said.

Namba and Nobuyuki Sato of the Research-Action Institute for the Koreans in Japan urged lawmakers to amend the bills so the state can’t use the zairyu card code number as a “master key” to track every detail of foreigners’ lives.

“Such a thing would be unacceptable to Japanese, and (the government) must explain why it is necessary for foreigners,” Sato said.

The government claims the proposed revision, which calls for abolishing alien registration cards and issuing zairyu cards in their place, will enable municipalities to ensure they provide legally residing foreigners with all social benefits, including health insurance.

Currently, if foreign residents move and fail to report their new address, it is difficult for municipalities to confirm their whereabouts.

The government argues the revision is intended to motivate foreigners to report their status properly so they receive a full range of social benefits.

However, Upper House member Tetsuji Nakamura of the Democratic Party of Japan, who was also at the news conference, believes the opposite may occur. “So many foreigners will go underground. I am afraid that those with no proper residence status will be invisible,” he said.

Currently, even those overstaying their visa can update their alien registration card by visiting the foreign registration section of their local government.

Toru Nishimura, an activist opposed to the resident registration network, argued that local governments do a better job at ensuring foreign residents receive social benefits than the Justice Ministry will.

“Local governments are making their utmost efforts to see invisible people” who are not registered, he said.

The bills will also introduce fines for those who do not carry a zairyu card and fail to report changes to their information, including address, place of employment, school and marital status.

Namba also said foreigners will have to go to local immigration offices to be issued with or to update zairyu, instead of visiting the more accessible municipal offices.

The bills are expected to face mounting calls for amendment in the opposition-controlled Upper House.

“The bills are full of problems. We will listen to everybody’s opinions and correct what needs to be corrected,” said Nobuo Matsuno, another DPJ Upper House lawmaker.