Foreigners get nod to skip social insurance

by Minoru Matsutani

The Immigration Bureau announced Wednesday new guidelines for foreign residents, stating that joining the social insurance system is not a requirement for renewing or changing one’s visa status.

The bureau told The Japan Times on Feb. 1 that it had decided to change the wording of the new guidelines — which were originally drawn up last March and scheduled to take effect April 1 — to ease concerns that those without social insurance would be forced to choose between losing their visa and joining the insurance system.

The original version of the guidelines said foreign residents must present their health insurance card when reporting changes to or renewing their residential status.

The wording has now been revised to read:”In order to promote signing up for social insurance, we will ask (foreign residents) to present their health insurance card starting April 1. We will not reject renewal or change of visa status for failing to present the card.”

Immigration Bureau official Aiko Oumi said, “We just want to persuade foreigners to join the social insurance, but we heard from many people that the original version sounded like having social insurance is a requirement.”

Foreigners and their supporters protested the original version of the new guidelines as an infringement on freedom of choice.

Foreign and Japanese residents are required to sign up for the social insurance system under the Health Insurance Act and the National Pension Act, but there are no legal sanctions for not doing so.

Some foreigners choose not to enter the insurance system, preferring to use insurance provided by foreign firms or simply because they don’t want to pay the premiums.

In some cases, employers choose not to have their foreign employees join the social insurance system to cut costs.

Some clinics that employ English-speaking doctors do not take Japanese insurance. They charge patients the full amount and give them a receipt, which they can use to claim medical expenses later with their insurer.