Immigration bills threaten rights of foreigners: critics

by Alex Martin

Representatives of municipalities and human rights groups voiced their opposition Thursday to government-sponsored immigration bills they say will lead to violations of foreigners’ rights and excessive control over them.

The proposed bills would issue new “zairyu” (residency) cards to replace their alien registration cards. Failure to carry the cards or report any changes in status could lead to a fine of up to ¥200,000, and failure to comply within three months could lead to one’s visa being canceled.

Alien registration is currently handled by local ward offices, but the new bills would hand responsibility for that task — and any records collected — to the Justice Ministry.

Hiroko Uehara, the former mayor of the city of Kunitachi in western Tokyo, refused to connect the municipality’s resident registry network to the nationwide Juki Net network in 2002 to protect residents’ privacy. She warned that transferring the management of alien registration from municipalities to immigration offices would reduce the quality of service for foreign residents.

“Municipalities have so far made an effort to provide, at their own discretion, services to foreign residents,” Uehara told a gathering in Tokyo. “But if immigration takes control of registration, all that effort will be lost,” she said.

According to estimates by the Justice Ministry, municipalities have issued registration cards to roughly 20,000 illegal foreign residents in Japan, and the problem has been blamed on the government’s lack of authority to check registration data.

Tomoko Ishii of Amnesty International said that the new bills would exacerbate the situation for refugees entering Japan, who are generally not eligible for social insurance and many other benefits. “In the past, municipalities offered services to those refugees they thought were in dire need of help,” Ishii said, warning that if the government took over such matters, refugees will receive no such support.

Takao Yamada, an official of the city of Kawasaki who used to handle alien registrations, expressed disappointment that the new bills offer no improvement on the current system.

“Nothing will change,” he said, reflecting on his past efforts to provide adequate support to foreign residents in Kawasaki. “Why is it only the foreigners that need to deal with this system?” he asked.