Reader JG is concerned about the changes to the Immigration Law that were passed in 2009 and are scheduled for implementation in July 2012.

According to the Immigration Bureau, the Ministry of Justice and immigration lawyers, the new law will bring about a few major changes.

First of all, the alien registration card (soon to become the “residence card”) will no longer be issued at the local level. From July of next year, the Ministry of Justice will take over responsibility for the residence card.

After the law goes into effect, new arrivals with a valid medium- or long-term visa will receive a residence card at their port of entry. In cases where the port authorities do not have the means to do this — presumably at smaller air and sea ports rather than the main regional hubs — the card will be mailed to you.

Current medium- and long-term residents in Japan will receive the new card when they next apply for a visa extension from July 2012 (permanent residents must apply for the card by July 2015).

The new law will essentially combine the systems for Japanese and non-Japanese under the Juki Net system, a nationwide registry established in 2002 that includes basic information about all citizens. Very controversial, it has been the subject of numerous lawsuits filed by plaintiffs across the country over privacy concerns. The Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Juki Net does not infringe on the right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution.

When the new law comes into force, non-Japanese will be put into this national system, which is why the residence card will be issued directly by the Immigration Bureau rather than local government.

Procedures for updating details on the residence card will also change when the new law goes into effect. Currently your local government office handles most personal information changes, but under the new law nearly all notifications will need to be made at your nearest immigration office.

For example, changes of name or nationality, employer or school information, and family relations (e.g., separation, divorce, death of spouse) will all be handled by the Immigration Bureau. Address registration and changes will still be handled by city hall.

Additionally, if your residence card is lost, damaged or stolen, rather than going to city hall, you will need to visit the immigration office for re-issuance. The time frame in which you have to do so, however, will remain the same: 14 days.

This may seem like a hassle for those who don’t live near an immigration office, though Immigration claims the new system should make procedures easier and require fewer visits to government offices. Immigration is considering allowing residents to make certain notifications online or via mail, particularly for those who do not live near an immigration office, though this has yet to be decided.

The penalties for failing to notify Immigration regarding change of job, address and other vital information, providing false information, or failing to register your address or change of address with city hall, are potentially stiff. However, the proposed penalties are only slightly different from the current range of options (dependent on the offense), and include a fine of up to ¥200,000, imprisonment or deportation.

Until the new system starts, it is not clear how or if these penalties will be dished out any differently than they are now. When we asked at the immigration office, they said penalties will be handled the same as they are currently.

According to immigration attorney Masahito Nakai, those who will suffer the most under the new system will be the undocumented.

“Previously each region implemented their own services, so many non-Japanese with expired visas could receive various levels of care,” he says. “Now there is concern that penalties for not notifying changes could be onerous, and having to go to Immigration for a new card and other changes instead of your local city office could prove a problem.”

Other changes (and, according to the Ministry of Justice, merits) to this new system include:

Extension of maximum period of stay:

The new system will extend the maximum period of stay from three years to five.

Revision of re-entry permit system:

Under the new law, medium-to-long-term residents with a valid passport and residence card will no longer need to apply for a re-entry permit if they leave and return to Japan within one year.

Additionally, the validity term of the re-entry permit for those who plan to be away for longer than 12 months will be extended from three to five years.

Less personal info on the new card:

Glance at your alien registration card and you’ll notice an extensive amount of personal details. Items on the new residence card will no longer include the name of the householder, place of birth, passport number, occupation, and employer’s name and location. (However, many see this as a negative, as all this personal information will instead be added to the national registry.)

To find more information on the upcoming changes (in English), visit www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/newimmiact/newimmiact_english.html and www.immi-moj.go.jp/newimmiact/pdf/leaflet_english.pdf

Please note that the above information is subject to change, although there are unlikely to be any major revisions between now and July 2012.

Mr. Nakai can be contacted at www.tokyovisa.co.jp or (03) 6402-7654.

Thanks also to immigration attorney Hideaki Takahashi of Eiwa Legal Office in Tokyo for his advice. You can contact Mr. Takahashi via eiwalegal.jimdo.com or on (03) 6892-1176.

Angela Jeffs is a freelance writer and writing guide ( www.thewriterwithin.net). Ashley Thompson writes survival tips and unique how-tos about living in Japan at www.survivingnjapan.com. Send all your questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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