Foreigners overstaying their visas took to the streets of Tokyo on Monday, calling for the Justice Ministry to grant them special residency permits before the new immigration law takes effect July 9.
The latest revision to the law may deprive visa overstayers of access to public services and rights they currently enjoy in their municipalities, rally organizers said.
“Please let us stay in Japan,” the 35 participants, who have lived in Japan longer than in their home countries or were born here, shouted in unison. Among them were those with Japanese spouses and some whose children were born in Japan.
Some of the overstayers have Japanese driver’s licenses, pay their national pension premiums and have health insurance.
The revised law might take away all the rights they’ve enjoyed, according to the Asian People’s Friendship Society, which organized the rally.
Many visa overstayers are issued alien registration cards by the municipal governments where they are registered as residents. But under the revised law, alien registration cards are to be issued by the Justice Ministry.
While those with valid visas will be issued new cards, those who are staying in the country illegally won’t be entitled to replacements, posing the risk they might be denied access to municipal services, the organizer said.
Jotaro Kato, an APFS representative, said the revision to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law will be another blow to those without visas.
“The system does not reflect the reality that Japan has more than 78,400 overstaying foreigners,” he said.
Protesters fear what lies ahead.
“Now I am worried that I will lose my health insurance when the law takes effect. I don’t know what to do if my children get sick,” said Gamage, 46, who declined to give his last name. The Sri Lankan has been in Japan for more than 15 years.
All the participants at the rally are applying for special residency permits that would allow overstayers to set up legal residency and work for a designated period of time. The ministry can decide if the applicants are eligible after reviewing various factors, including the applicants’ living conditions and humanitarian considerations. But the process could take years, leaving families in limbo.
Monday’s participants included a Filipino couple who came to Japan in the 1990s without valid passports and had two sons in Japan. One morning in May 2002, their home was raided by immigration officers. It was then that one of their Japan-born sons, Daniel, learned his family was overstaying their visas. The family wanted their last names withheld.
The father was taken into custody the same day and the family was ordered deported.
“I wondered why the police came when we did nothing wrong,” said 15-year-old Daniel, who at the time was only 10. “It was the first time I realized that I am not legally here,” he said. Daniel is scheduled to start high school in April.
The family applied for special residency permits, only to be rejected by the Supreme Court in December 2009. The ministry said that only Daniel would be allowed to stay with his aunt, who has a Japanese spouse. The family declined in order to stay together.
This is a common concern for the participants. Like Daniel, many of the children at the rally were born in Japan but are considered illegal aliens because Japan does not grant nationality based on their birthplace.