Foreign residents can’t claim welfare benefits: Supreme Court


The Supreme Court ruled Friday that foreigners with permanent residency status are ineligible for welfare benefits, overturning a decision by the Fukuoka High Court that had acknowledged their eligibility under the public assistance law.

The decision by the top court’s Second Petit Bench concerned a lawsuit filed by an 82-year-old Chinese woman with permanent residency who was born and grew up in Japan.

The woman applied for welfare benefits with the Oita municipal office in Oita Prefecture in December 2008 but was denied the benefits on the grounds she had some savings.

The woman then filed a suit demanding that the city’s decision be repealed. She is now receiving the benefits because the municipality accepted her welfare application in October 2011.

While the recipients of welfare benefits are limited to Japanese nationals by law, the government issued a notice in 1954 saying foreigners should be treated in accordance with the public assistance law.

Since the government limited recipients to Japanese nationals and foreigners with permanent residency in 1990, municipalities have exercised their discretion in doling out the benefits.

In October 2010, the Oita District Court rejected the plaintiff’s suit, saying that denying the public assistance law to foreigners was within the discretion of a municipal government.

In November 2011, however, the Fukuoka High Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, saying that foreigners with permanent residency have been protected under the public assistance law.

  • Demosthenes

    So what’s the point in permanent residents paying their taxes in Japan, if they don’t have access to the same social services as citizens? And if so what comes next – cutting back on their access to public healthcare too?

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Puerile racist chaos.

  • Steve Jackman

    Disgraceful decision by the Japan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices would rather see needy permanent residents of Japan, even those who were born here and have spent their entire lives in Japan, starve to death in their old age, than to extend them paltry welfare benefits in their golden years.

    Way to go, one of the world’s richest nations! Throw momma under the bus. This decision speaks volumes about Japanese hospitality, generousity and the spirit of omotenashi (or, lack thereof). Makes me proud to live in this country.

  • Ron NJ

    Glad I pay taxes for services I can’t even use. Thanks, Japan!

  • Gee Hendricks

    Good decision on the part of the leaders of Japan, I say. They look across the Pacific and see illegal immigration tearing apart the very fabric of American society, and they don’t want to suffer the same fate. Here in the US, a once mighty nation is seeing its finances bled dry by illegal immigrants, freeloaders, single mother welfare recipients and takers. Japan isn’t having any of this nonsense, and I wish my country’s leaders would stand up and do the same thing, the right thing.

  • Jay

    I just spoke to two elderly foreign professors, living on Japanese pensions. They have to continue working in the their early 70s because their pensions aren’t nearly enough to live on. That, for a life time of payment into the system. But the real shocker is that, had they worked less than the minimum 25 years, they could have lost ALL of their pension premiums and received nothing at all. Not immediately relevant, perhaps, except that the rules for “foreigners” receiving pensions is different than for Japanese nationals, but the rules for payment into the system are the same.

  • Roan Suda

    Two commentators here have resorted to the all-purpose American swear word “racist” in characterizing the admittedly disheartening Supreme Court ruling. No. A Japanese-Peruvian or a Japanese-Canadian without Japanese citizenship would presumably be in the same pickle…Japan’s Supreme Court, unlike its US counterpart, for example, does not legislate from the bench; it tends to interpret the law quite narrowly, cautiously, and sometimes pig-headedly. But laws change, sometimes for the better. Children of non-Japanese fathers were once denied Japanese citizenship, with the assent of the SCJ. But the judges knew that the Diet would eventually act to change the law. For the the usual gang of Nippon-bashers, stories such as this are red meat, but the fact is that Japan is not the sort of cold-hearted society that will allow this woman to starve.

  • wada

    Although foreigners with permanent residency lost in Supreme Court, they can receive welfare benefits. Therefore, 82-year-old Chinese woman welfare is guaranteed by the local government.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Thank you for all your work and taxes, now please go back to your country to die.

  • http://www.turning-japanese.info/ Eido INOUE

    All the “I pay taxes therefore I think I am entitled to receive…” comments are amusing. Sovereign countries are not service organizations. Taxes help fund services, but a tax is not a “fee for services”. Paying taxes is a responsibility/duty (often enshrined in the constitution) that is not connected or a prerequisite to receiving your rights. People that don’t pay taxes? They can still vote. AND receive welfare. And if you choose not to use or don’t need your rights or benefits, you still have to pay your taxes — because it’s not a fee.

    (American: “Oh, no thank you, America, I choose not to vote or use your roads or schools. In fact, I don’t even live in the U.S. anymore, so I don’t think I have to file 1040s and/or pay taxes.” U.S. government to American [citizen/national or foreign permanent resident/LPR (!)]: “No, wrong.”)

    This isn’t unique to Japan. All countries tax in one form or another, and the duty of taxation is almost always disconnected from/not linked to the receiving of rights or services. Both for nationals and non-nationals.

  • Shaun O’Dwyer

    The bigger issue is what message such a ruling sends to prospective immigrants, including the highly skilled ones who might like to hold onto their home country’s citizenship and who might also want to retire in Japan. An immigration-friendly country like Australia (yes I know, not friendly to some refugees) allows dual citizenship and also allows, after qualifying periods, for permanent residents to access welfare benefits. Other examples of developed countries with competitive, permanent resident friendly policies could also be given, I’m sure. I know there are some people on this thread who-because of voodoo economic assumptions-figure Japan can do just fine without a robust immigration program in the coming decades. But they aren’t being true friends to Japan in thinking that.

  • 脚線美あると思いますか?

    Gordon Graham is extremely confused. Go home sir. Your 27 years has been wasted.

  • warota

    Someone please explain to me how this isn’t equivalent to fraud.

  • aryllies

    I for one hope that Gordon Graham had an enjoyable afternoon in the company of some ad hominem comments.

    I will however allow myself to feel gloomy at the prospect of this new ruling.
    I hope it’s okay and doesn’t make me, in anyone’s eyes, an underhanded exploiter of the golden and evergreen nation that is Japan.

  • Gordon Graham

    His father didn’t register him at birth? Stupid rules you say…

  • warota

    “Sorry, those are the rules.”

  • warota

    No, this ruling only affects welfare. You can still apply for and receive welfare but it’s no longer guaranteed for non-citizens. You have no legal recourse now if you get denied however.

  • Gordon Graham

    She IS getting benefits.

  • Gordon Graham

    and IS receiving financial assistance…Again, you can enjoy the benefits of a citizen if you commit to becoming one.

  • Steve Jackman

    One cannot do such a simple comparison of social welfare in the U.S and Japan, since it is a little more complex and nuanced. It’s like comparing apples and oranges as there are significant differences between the two countries, not the least being that the U.S allows dual nationality by not forcing immigrants to renounce their other citizenship, so becoming an American citizen is a no brainer for them.

  • Steve Jackman

    “Simple as that.”

    Sure, for a simpleton like you, it is.

  • Justin Thyme

    All the comparisons with other countries here among the comments don’t change a thing. The fact is this ruling is discriminatory, unfair, and reeks of institutional racism.

    Whether or not there are other nations with similar or worse policies doesn’t make this matter any less unethical. Some of the comments here are in the realm of “two wrongs making a right” or “everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t we.”

    I’d be equally outraged at such a ruling regardless of which country I lived in.

  • daimos

    OK, fine. Then why ask the foreigners to pay for welfare if they will not be entitled to it? I have no problem whatsoever if I do not receive welfare, just don’t ask me to pay for it though. No welfare, no contribution – simple as that.

  • Gordon Graham

    I’m against wasteful spending and fraudulent activities such as spousal visas parlayed into welfare freeloading.

  • OsFish

    I’m re-posting this comment that I made to the other main article on the ruling.

    The media presentation of this ruling has led to a huge amount of confusion and understandable panic. Some things really need to be cleared up, because the confusion is clearly causing people distress. Many people on *both* sides of the discussion here seem to have misunderstood what has happened.

    1. This ruling has *nothing* to do with anyone’s pension, or unemployment
    benefits, or health insurance. Nothing at all. People who are contributing through social insurance retain every right to receive what they are paying for. Social insurance systems typically don’t depend on nationality, they depend on working people paying in. It also has nothing to do with child benefit (kodomo teate) or various other generally universal benefits. I think the word “Welfare” has confused people. It has different meanings in different countries.

    This means that people who are protesting at how much they are contributing through their shakai hoken etc can relax. The ruling simply has nothing to do with those benefits at all. You will still receive them. In this light, it would perhaps be unwise for those contemplating it to opt out of social insurance based on the mistaken idea that they are being deprived of those benefits. You are not, and the contributions are still obligatory for those working full-time.

    2. This ruling concerns seikatsuhogo: Livelihood protection. This is a social *assistance* benefit. It is for people who have little or no income at all. This will
    typically be people who have not fully paid into the social insurance system. This is what happens in work-based social insurance systems. You need a supplementary social *assistance* system of means-tested benefits for those who fall through the gaps for various reasons. This may include an incomplete contributions record (which may be no fault of the person concerned). Not such a great number of people receive this benefit, possibly around 1% (mainly the elderly, disabled, and fatherless families). Seikatsuhogo, like social assistance in many parts of the world, is administered at the municipal level. The awarding of this benefit depends on an assessment of the applicant’s income. As such, applicants may not be successful if they have too much income.

    3. This ruling does *not* stop non-nationals from getting “livelihood protection”. This is where many headlines have been quite misleading. Although the livelihood protection law itself is explicitly limited to Japanese citizens, municipalities are actually under instruction through a notice from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (issued in 1954 and reconfirmed in 1990) to treat long-term non-Japanese residents (including, but not only, special permanent residents, permanent residents and refugees) precisely the same as Japanese citizens when assessing them for assistance. According to at least two people’s testimony I know of who work in this area, nothing has changed in that. Foreigners can and do receive livelihood protection welfare. Someone else in these comments quoted a figure of 46,000 households where this is happening.

    4. What the ruling appears to do is establish that the law itself is not a basis for a non-Japanese to receive these benefits. (Instead, the basis is the notice from the ministry). This produces the bad situation that appealing against a denial of livelihood protection cannot be done through legal argument from the law itself. That is, the rights of non-Japanese to appeal against a rejected application have, through this judgement’s clarification of the meaning of the law, effectively been curtailed.

    This raises the *possibility* that some municipalities may now choose to be harsher in their assessments, or simply cease providing livelihood protection to some or all categories of non-Japanese, on the understanding that the foreigner will clearly have more limited recourse. However, against that, the instructing notice from the Ministry is still in force. That is, municipalities are still expected to provide social assistance to long-term residents as if they were Japanese citizens.

    So while this ruling is certainly a cause for some serious concern because of the implications for future local government decisions, and personally speaking, I think it would be great if people could get angry about it and get the law itself amended, it is not the grand theft that some people believe that it is, and that media headlines in both English and Japanese have suggested.

  • Gordon Graham

    Where you’re wrong, Johnathan, is you claim to have equal rights to a system that you have not contributed to equally. That system has been built up over hundreds, no…thousands of years, through toil, hardship and struggle. It has become the system you chose to come to from a myriad of other systems and it’s the way it is because of the struggle and toil and sacrifice the Japanese people have put in and endured over centuries. You want to lay claim to that by virtue of being allowed to work and live here for what…the past 10 years? Sorry, Jonathan, it doesn’t work that way. This is the land of the Japanese, built up and maintained by the Japanese. It didn’t become the system you chose to live in in just the past 10 years, there has been far more investment in it than that. You want a piece of the pie, be worthy of becoming a citizen. It took centuries for this nation to become a place where you chose to work and live. Asking you to put in 10 some years of good behaviour is hardly an unfair request. Are you being asked to pay for something you won’t reap the benefits of…Well, you reap the benefit of helping the Japanese who have helped you by providing you a living…