Tweak the immigration debate and demand an upgrade to denizen class


Crucial to any public discussion is defining the terms of debate. However, often those terms must be redefined later because they don’t reflect reality.

One example is Japan’s concept of “foreigner,” because the related terminology is confusing and provides pretenses for exclusionism.

In terms of strict legal status, if you’re not a citizen you’re a “foreigner” (gaikokujin), right? But not all gaikokujin are the same in terms of acculturation or length of stay in Japan. A tourist “fresh off the boat” has little in common with a noncitizen with a Japanese family, property and permanent residency. Yet into the gaikokujin box they all go.

The lack of terms that properly differentiate or allow for upgrades has negative consequences. A long-termer frequently gets depicted in public discourse as a sojourner, not “at home” in Japan.

Granted, there are specialized terms for visa statuses, such as eijūsha (permanent resident) and tokubetsu eijūsha (special permanent resident, for the zainichi Korean and Chinese generational “foreigners”). But they rarely appear in common parlance, since the public is generally unaware of visa regimes (many people don’t even know foreigners must carry “gaijin cards”!).

Public debate about Japan’s foreign population must take into account their degree of assimilation. So this column will try to popularize a concept introduced in the 1990s that remains mired in migration studies jargon: denizen.

“Denizenship,” as discussed by Tomas Hammar of Stockholm University, is a mid-step between migrant and immigrant, foreigner and citizen — a “quasi-citizenship.” In his 1990 book “Democracy and the Nation State,” Hammar talks about three “entrance gates” for migrants to become citizens: 1) admission to the country, 2) permanent residency, and 3) acquisition of full citizenship.

Denizens have passed the second gate, having become resident aliens who have been granted extensive civil and social citizenship rights — including national and/or local suffrage in some countries.

Although denizens lack the full political rights of a citizen, scholars of international migration note that countries are increasingly giving denizens faster tracks to full citizenship, including relaxation of blood-based nationality (e.g., in Sweden, Holland, Switzerland and Germany), official guidance in naturalization procedures after obtaining permanent residency (e.g., United States), greater tolerance for dual citizenship (e.g., Mexico) and some electoral rights (e.g., European Union).

A similar discussion on denizenship has taken place in Japanese academia, thanks to Atsushi Kondo (1996), Chikako Kashiwazaki (2000) and Akihiro Asakawa (2007) et al., all of whom rendered the term in katakana as denizun, translating it as eijū shimin (permanent “citizens,” so to speak).

Perhaps this will come as no surprise, but their extensive research highlighted the comparatively closed nature of Japanese immigration policy. Japan has been an outlier in terms of citizenship rules, going against the trend seen in other advanced democracies to enfranchise denizens.

For example, Japan has an intolerance of dual nationality, high hurdles for achieving permanent residency, arbitrary and discretionary rules for obtaining full citizenship, few refugees, and strict “family” blood-based citizenship without exception for future generations of denizens (which is why Japan is still home to hundreds of thousands of zainichi “foreigners” 60 years after their ancestors were stripped of Japanese citizenship).

Essentially, Japan does not recognize denizenship. This was underscored during recent debates on granting local suffrage rights to permanent residents (gaikokujin sanseiken). Opposition politicians stated clearly: If foreigners want the right to vote, they should naturalize.

Sadly, steps to humanize the debate, by incorporating the perspectives of long-term residents themselves, were not taken, creating a tautology of disenfranchisement. The antireformers eventually won the debate, retrenching the binary between “foreigner” and “citizen” and obscuring the gray zones of long-term residency.

There are long-standing systemic issues behind this entrenchment. As Kashiwazaki notes: “The system of naturalization is not designed to transform foreign nationals promptly into Japanese nationals. Restriction on naturalization corresponds to the government’s stance on border control, namely that Japan does not admit immigration for the purpose of permanent settlement.”

As discussed on these pages numerous times, the fire wall keeping foreigners from ever becoming settlers is maintained by Japan’s revolving-door visa regimes, strict punishments for even slight administrative infractions that “reset the visa clock,” and a permanent “police the foreigners” credo from a Justice Ministry not configured for immigration or integration.

This has a long history. As Japan’s “Immigration Bureau” has argued repeatedly after it designed the postwar rules on any foreign influx (here in 1959): “Since Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, policies of controlling both population growth and immigration are strongly called for. It should therefore be a government policy to severely restrict the entry of foreigners into Japan. Particularly because there are undesirable foreigners who would threaten the lives of Japanese nationals by criminal activity and immoral conduct.”

After a high water mark of “internationalization” in the 1990s, Japan’s conservatives in the 2000s (backed up by periodic official “foreign crime” and “visa overstayer” campaigns to scare the public) managed to stem the tide of liberalization seen in other advanced democracies, turning Japan into an immigration Galapagos increasingly reactionary towards outsiders — even as demographics force Japan’s decline.

Like the people it represents, denizenship as a concept remains invisible within Japan’s public discourse, oblivious to how foreigners actually live in Japan. Categorically, people are either gaikokujin or nihonjin. Rarely if ever are the former termed eijūsha, eijū shimin, imin or ijūsha (immigrants).

Let’s tweak the terms of debate. If you’re planning on living in Japan indefinitely, I suggest you get your neighbors warmed up to the fact that you as a non-Japanese (let’s at least avoid the dislocated, transient trappings of the generic word “foreigner”) are not merely gaikokujin. You are jūmin (residents). And as of 2012, most of you now have a jūminhyō (residency certificate) to prove it.

Then spread the word through the grass roots, such as they are. Upgrade your status and mollify the binary. Or else you’ll just be stuck in a rhetorical limbo as something temporary and in transit. Not good for you, not good for Japan.

Debito’s most recent publication is “Japan’s Rightward Swing and the Tottori Prefecture Human Rights Ordinance” in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (japanfocus.org/site/view/3907) Twitter: @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Pages of the month. Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • Mints

    Japan does recognize denizenship by granting permanent residency. Unfortunately suffrage rights are not included, but how uncommon is that? Arudou mentions “some countries” grant suffrage, but doesn’t say how many and provides no examples. His criticism of Japan would be much more convincing if he offered comparative data, especially from countries with similar backgrounds and immigration issues (like say, South Korea and Italy).

    I wonder how connected Arudou is to public debate and “common parlance” in Japan. Is it really true that Japanese don’t take into account the degree of assimilation of non-Japanese here? Generally they make the distinction based on language fluency. And compared to other countries, a remarkable number of foreigners (mostly English speakers) lack fluency despite living here for years. Learning the language, not grassroots activism, is the first step to “upgrade your status.”

    Incidentally, language fluency is not even a requirement for permanent residency in Japan, unlike in Germany, for instance. In fact, the hurdles for
    acquiring permanent residency here are not as high as many people think.

    • Peter McArthur

      Regarding the point about suffrage: In most industrial democracies, the principle seems to be that RESIDENTS vote for bodies whose main purpose is to tax and spend, and CITIZENS vote for legislative assemblies.

      Take, for example, a Pole living in London. As a London resident, he can vote in the London council and mayoral elections. As an EU citizen, he can vote for London’d representative in the European parliament. He CANNOT vote in the UK Parliamentary election, but he CAN vote in the Polish equivalent.

      Of course, there is considerable variation between countries, but Japan is an extreme case. I regret that I can’t remember the reference, but I have seen an article which exhaustively documented voting rights in industrial democracies, and Japan was the ONLY country which gave denied all voting rights to all foreign residents.

      • A Pole in London does not get to vote in London elections because he is a “London resident”. He gets to vote because he is an EU citizen, and under EU law States within the EU must extend local voting rights to any EU citizen residing within one of their municipalities. An American living in London would not be allowed to vote in local elections, regardless of visa status or length of residence, unless he was also able to claim EU citizenship or citizenship in a Commonwealth country. Japan is not the “only” country that denies all voting rights to all foreigners: Australia no longer allows foreigners to vote (aside from what must by now be a vanishingly small number of foreign nationals from Commonwealth countries who have also been resident in Australia since before 1984), the US does not allow foreigners to vote in any state ot national election, nor in almost any local election (voting for candidates for NYC’s education board comes to mind, but that is not a political election at all), and I would argue that most EU countries do not grant voting rights to foreigners, even at the local level, as effectively the EU is one large “State”, with semi-autonomous subdivisions, such that phrases such as for example “a German national resident in France” is no longer a valid description as both the German and his French neighbor are nationals of the same entity: the EU. The German is thus not a “foreigner” when he resides in France.

      • Masa Chekov

        Not true. The US also does not allow foreign residents to vote.

        Most Japanese I have spoken to on the topic are surprised that foreign residents AREN’T allowed to vote, actually.

      • “Japan was the ONLY country which gave denied all voting rights to all foreign residents.”
        As the child of a foreign resident living in the US, I can tell you that is most definitely not true. My father was not allowed to vote in any elections in the US during the 40-odd years he lived there before taking citizenship.

    • Jonathan Owens

      In the area where I live, it is generally assumed that foreigners cannot understand any of the language at all, and that is what makes it okay to make fun of them in any public space that they may appear. Unless one wants to take up the fight with almost every single person outdoors that he or she may encounter, just staying silent against our adversaries becomes the norm.

      Having complete fluency does little to help with such situations, if you are judged before even able to open your mouth.

      • If you think the people around you are “making fun of you in any public space you may appear in”, then all that says to me is that you don’t understand the language, therefore don’t understand what people around you are saying, and are filling in the blanks with your own insecurities. An all-too-common situation with all-too-many English speakers in Japan, sadly. The fact you view your neighbors as “adversaries” instead of “neighbors”, I think, proves my point.

  • Masa Chekov

    Why should Japan tolerate dual nationality? I can understand there being an issue for a child of an international relationship – one parent is Japanese and the other is not – but in that case the child is allowed dual citizenship until adulthood anyway, which seems reasonable enough.

    But for immigrants to Japan? I don’t understand this at all. If you want to become Japanese, become Japanese. The barrier to entry is actually quite low. But if you want to be Japanese and something else, well, perhaps you should just stick to permanent residency then.

    Wanting to keep your old citizenship sounds like an insurance policy for buyer’s remorse. Well, too bad. One should consider the full consequences of a decision to naturalize before doing so.

    • Masa, why do you think someone should only be allowed one citizenship? People often find themselves members of more than one social group. As an American living in Japan, is it wrong for me to wish to participate in both communities?

      Also, the word “tolerate” seems to imply you find dual citizenship distasteful. Am I misreading you?

      • Citizenship: it is not a social club.

      • Masa Chekov

        Sam, I am not sure what citizenship has to do with participation in a community. You are free to associate with whomever you wish regardless of your nationality. Changing your citizenship does not change this.

        I do find adults willingly trying to maintain two citizenships a bit odd. I am not sure if distasteful is the right word or not. But I see absolutely no reason Japan should not alter its policy of not allowing dual citizenship. Again, once you become a permanent resident you can get a home loan, raise a family, do basically whatever you need. This sounds like what you would like to do.

        I will ask you this – what is it about permanent residency that you find distasteful? Why is it not sufficient if you intend to keep your American citizenship?

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I appreciate it much more than GMainwaring’s reaction to turn the discussion into a bumper sticker slogan.

        Eido is right that citizenship binds you to a nation’s laws and duties. But that’s not a complete view of citizenship in my opinion. Citizenship also allows you to participate in the political process of that nation state. Citizenship is indeed a community.

        Being a citizen gives you the right to participate in the political community to whatever degree you wish. Being a permanent resident does not. You are left at the whim of others. People who wish to gain Japanese citizenship as well are just looking to have their voice counted since the decisions affect them as well.

        Many countries have come to the realization that it’s simple to hold multiple citizenship. If the duties required by one clash with the other, then you must make a choice.

        Taking on a second citizenship isn’t something people take lightly. People who do it understand it comes with benefits and responsibilities.

      • But Sam, one can only ever have one citizenship at a time. Even if Japan were to drop the requirement to renounce your previous nationality and allow you to take Japanese citizenship while retaining your US passport, as long as you are in Japan you are a Japanese national. Only. That US passport is completely meaningless. Probably even if you were keeping it as “insurance”, and the Norks started raining nuclear warheads down on Japan and you ran to the US Embassy to get repatriated, they wouldn’t do it if they found out you were also a Japanese citizen.

        That’s the way these things work in the real world – countries won’t help out their nationals if that citizen is also a foreign national and is in their “home” country. They can’t. Nor will they generally do anything for you if you are in a third country but traveling on the other passport

        I would also dispute that “many countries have come to the realization that it’s simple to hold multiple citizenship”. More than a few countries have come to the opposite conclusion, in fact. Requirements to renounce one’s prior citizenship when naturalizing, for example, are common in Europe even as dual nationality from birth is tolerated. The US position has long been that dual nationality is not desirable, while recognizing that the US has no way to force naturalized citizens to renounce. Well they do, actually, just as Japan does, but they don’t go down that path. The US does however require a pledge when naturalizing that the new US citizen renounces all allegiances to their previous nation of citizenship. Which honestly makes me wonder why those people still have non-US passports if they owe no allegiance to that country, but I digress.

        Further, US studies have shown that first-generation dual nationals are over 30% less likely to be fluent in English and almost 20% less likely to consider themselves American, or America their home, or feel a sense of civic duty than those who give up their prior citizenship upon receiving US citizenship. First-generation dual nationals are also significantly less likely to vote in US elections, probably because they don’t consider the US “home”. Now this is almost certainly due to attitudes held before applying for US citizenship (citizenship was just viewed as a way to permanently stay in the US, with the benefits thereof, rather than being born out of a strong sense of belonging or desire to be American), but still – what is the benefit to anyone of citizens like that?

      • “If the duties required by one clash with the other, then you must make a choice.” [emphasis added]

        And that misunderstanding is why a lot of countries don’t encourage dual nationality (even those countries that allow it like the U.S.). When you have dual nationality and the laws or duties conflict with each other, you don’t get to choose. It’s not à la carte menu where you get to pick the laws you like and ignore the ones you don’t from each side. As a general rule of thumb, the territory you’re on determines which law prevails (but not always). And if you’re neither here nor there (in a country where you have neither citizenship)… then… it’s a mess. Time for very specialized lawyers and possibly government representatives to get involved.

        And if you’re thinking “but seriously, what are the odds of that happening?” In the case of Japan, it happens (think differences in family law). I can think of a very famous case in the media where one American naturalized and did not follow procedure and relinquish his U.S. citizenship. Got all entangled with Japanese wife, Japanese children, with a Japanese passport in his name. When it hit the fan and he got in trouble with Japanese law (the law he swore a formal written oath to obey during his naturalization process by the way) on Japanese soil, he suddenly became very “American” and insisted that U.S. law and rights, not Japanese law, apply. There were lots of other areas he messed around with where it was unclear which laws should apply. He became the poster boy for (illegal) dual nationality run amok.

        Anyway, whether or not a country want to allow dual citizenship is up to its citizens. And Japan actually allows dual citizenship in some cases (pragmatic cases where you receive a nationality automatically or involuntarily and can’t practically get rid of it). Having a (one) nationality is a recognized U.N. human right. Having multiple nationalities is not.

        So, regarding your comparisons to other countries, is it really “simple” to hold multiple citizenship? To quote the U.S. State Department, which allows dual citizenship:

        The U.S. Government does not encourage dual nationality. While recognizing the existence of dual nationality and permitting Americans to have other nationalities, the U.S. Government also recognizes the problems which it may cause. Claims of other countries upon dual-national U.S. citizens often place them in situations where their obligations to one country are in conflict with the laws of the other. In addition, their dual nationality may hamper efforts to provide U.S. diplomatic and consular protection to them when they are abroad, especially when they are in the country of their second nationality.

      • Toolonggone

        Definition of citizenship is not limited to nationality, period.

      • Masa Chekov

        Actually, yes it is. Citizenship and nationality are synonymous.

      • In Japan, yes, that’s correct. In other countries? No. (There’s a difference between a U.S. National — like someone from American Samoa — and a U.S. Citizen.

      • Toolonggone

        Did you read my sentence? It is just one of the meanings the word citizenship has. Narrow definition is the main reason why the entire debate on immigration politics—especially, Japanese-ness— is skewed.

      • Yes, yes, we’re all aware that “citizenship” and “citizen” has many meanings in the English language. But it should be obvious that we’re talking about the legal meaning of “citizen” and “citizenship” in this context about immigration.

        “Diplomat” has many definitions too, but you don’t get immunity from arrest overseas and get to go through the special lines at the airport just because you are a “person who is tactful and skillful in managing delicate situations, handling people, etc.” [Random House, 2013, definition #2]

      • Citizenship is not a “social group” or “community”. It is a legal connection to a sovereign state, and binds you to that country’s laws and duties (even when you’re overseas), current and future, in additional to that country’s rights.

  • FightBack

    First off, congratulations to Debito for once again showing us the way forward in these dangerous times for NJ. Gaining a residency certificate is just another small step towards emancipation and I’m guessing it’s in no small part due to the continuing efforts of Debito’s struggle for our rights.

    Now that we have this certificate we need to make the Japanese public aware. Poster campaigns, even t-shirts with the residency certificate printed on them, these have all shown themselves to be effective at getting the message across. We are denizens, not tourists, and we deserve to be recognized as such.

    • “We are denizens, not tourists”

      “All foreigners are equal, comrade, but some foreigners are more equal!”

    • Mints

      Dangerous times for non-Japanese, indeed! Just the other day I got a splinter in my finger from an old chopstick and almost slipped on the floor in the local sento. Just what do you mean by “dangerous times”? Do you realize that ethnic minorities in some countries are openly harrassed and even beaten up in public just because they look different?
      And not every foreigner deserves to be recognized as a denizen. Read the article. Denizens are defined as having reached permanent residency status. Get your facts straight before making posters and T-shirts.

  • Nanagoro

    ”many people don’t even know foreigners must carry “gaijin cards”!

    Does anyone carry such cards these days?

    • Yes. Why would you think not?

    • Glen Douglas Brügge

      I had to; all the other gaijins I knew had to. Not that I cared one bit. But you do need to produce it if asked.

    • The 外国人登録証 system was only abandoned last summer. Their was no mandate to upgrade to the 住民票 for those whose cards were not ready to expire. I can assure you that many people still carry their ‘gaijin cards’.

      • “Gaijin Card” is slang for one of two things: the no-longer-issued and expiring ARC (Alien Registration Cards) and the new “Residency Cards”.

        In the old system a foreigner in Japan had to carry either your non-expired passport or a non-expired valid ARC card. Most carry their ARC as its more portable and durable.

        In the new system a foreigner with a non-expired valid Residency Card (not passport) must carry their card on or near their person.

        The only exception are Special Permanent Residents: they get a special card that is functionally identical but called a “Special Permanent Resident Identification” and they are not required to carry it on their person.

  • Once again Arudou is attempting to influence a debate by introducing his beliefs as facts.

    Of the four countries he cites as relaxing the Jus Sanguinus requirement for citizenship, only Germany has actually done so. A child born in Germany to a foreigner with permanent resident status does acquire provisional German citizenship at birth – but they must apply to keep it before they turn 23 or they will lose it. Sweden and Switzerland only recognize children born to their own nationals as citizens, and Holland will only recognize the child of a resident foreigner as a citizen from birth if in turn at least one of the parents’ parents was also born in Holland or a Dutch territory.

    For all of Arudou’s talk about strict “blood-based” citizenship, it is interesting that he skips over the bit about how he, a white born and raised in America, is a Japanese citizen, and any children he sires in the future, regardless of the nationality or ethnicity of his wife, would automatically be Japanese nationals from birth! As were any Zainichi Koreans or Chinese with a Japanese parent. In fact, Japan refused to divest North Koreans with a Japanese parent of their Japanese citizenship, as to do so would (from Japan’s point of view) render them stateless (Japan does not recognize the DPRK).

    The reason why Japan still has Zainichi Koreans and Chinese 60+ years after divesting them of their Japanese citizenship has less to do with Japan’s laws concerning nationality and naturalization and a lot more to do with the fact the Koreans and to a much lesser extent the Chinese refuse to accept Japanese citizenship – in part because they cling even more stubbornly to ideas of “blood-based nationality” than Arudou thinks the Japanese do.

    Arudou also trots out the old “well the EU gives local voting rights to foreigners” distraction again, while ignoring the bit about (most) States in the EU giving local voting rights only to permanent resident EU citizens. This is not giving voting rights to “foreigners”, it is giving voting rights to fellow citizens from the same political entity, with the giving of those rights being a precondition for admittance of a State to the EU.

    Further, if Arudou thinks the hurdles for permanent residency or naturalization are “high” or “aribitrary”, then he clearly knows little if anything about the process elsewhere, including his land of birth and current residence. Compared to a great many countries, obtaining permanent residency or citizenship is a cakewalk in Japan. Lots of paperwork, certainly, but not particularly onerous. Likewise, find me a country, any country, where the citizens refer to the foreigners in their midst in such nuanced terms as “that nice fellow with indefinite leave to remain” (note not “Permanent”, just “indefinite”!) or “our neighbor the green-card holder”. They are “foreigners”.

    And didn’t Mr. Arudou write a long piece about how gaijin/gaikokujin is the same as the N-word? Why does this middle-aged Japanese man still insist on referring to us by the “N-word” then?

    Finally, can someone tell me what on Earth “mollify the binary” is supposed to mean? Mr. Arudou, return that thesaurus to the library, please, you clearly don’t know how to use it.

    • FightBack

      It’s sad that apologists such as yourself need to go to such lengths to discredit Debito Arudou when he is the only person in Japan right now standing up for the rights of denizens like me, and I assume, yourself.

      Is it really worth the mental energy, or is cyber-bullying just a way to pass the time while the Japanese remain committed to the social segregation of NJ?

      Don’t you think it’s time to get on side with the good guys. Debito has put his life into this. Show some appreciation or at least a little respect.

      • If Debito is the only person in Japan standing up for your rights, then you have no one in Japan standing up for your rights, and haven’t had one for quite some time. However, perhaps, in a way he is helping get us a better deal – I note that the law that gave us Juuminhyou and put us on a more equal footing took effect right after he left Japan. I will say, though, that I know of at least one Japanese who by his writings is quite clearly committed to the social segregation of NJ. Perhaps you know him as well?

  • qwerty

    Some NJ are grateful just to be in this magical land and gladly accept the terms and conditions. Others want a better deal. It probably depends on where or what they came from.

  • Al

    Many countries and their people are “Dreaming” about such restrictive immigration politics which Japan do.

    For example the Russia – largest surface territory country on the planet Earth (even after USSR collapse – in fact Russia now is in borders of Brest’s Peace treaty after First World War – the humiliating pact when it’s lost thousands kilometers of western territories – and even with all of this it’s got the 1st place today).

    Russia have enormous immigration flow from Central Asia region which uses the union treaty signed in 1990’s which makes literally no borders between Russia and Central Asia – it is former soviet republics, but they are independent at the same time, mostly muslims with very big populations. The other immigration danger is of course the biggest neighbor – China. The border between Russia and China closed, only tourists visas – but it’s not stopping the thousands of chinese citizens to cross the border even by making the fake documents. Russia is really very afraid of chinese people expansion – so all attempts to make the compact “china towns” on russian territory are prevented by authorities. Special law signed by president Medvedev forbids of selling the land for foreigners in all russian near-border regions.

    Maybe 5 years ago, but China lost it’s main outpost in Russia – Cherkizone (Cherkizovsky market) – the gigantic enormous market which itself by the size was like a city with underground tunnels and warehouses. It was in the russian capital – Moscow, built by turkish oligarch from the start (i doubt that Beijing authorities will agree to place the same awful “thing” in their capital). It was the dirtiest and disgusting place with very bad reputation, their own local laws and local language and pure criminal – chinese build there their own hidden banking system connected with mainland China by couriers which was so secretive that noone even today know it’s size but the closing only one hidden office of that banking system revealed the gigantic cash piles – all transactions was made manually by secretive cash couriers through the borders. This whole dirty market dump was destroyed by authorities, even the chinese officials make a diplomatic note after that.

    The latest news – Unprecedented on the Global scale.
    The Tajikistan muslim republic from Central Asia (it’s near Afghanistan and main cross country of narcotics trafficking) officially requests Russia to Allow their citizens which was already officially deported from Russia for violating the immigration law with 5 year penalty to enter again – to cross the border. This is unbelievable. Can you imagine that some country will asks your country to allow their criminal citizens (which already violated law in your country) to Forgive them and enter again? This is first time something like this on international scale. And it’s serious – the number of non-grata (no enter) Tajikistan’s citizens which they are talking about is 400 000 (yeah, thousands) – near the half of million people.

    More than a half of people in Russia wants to close the border with Central Asia because of illegal immigration of muslim populations and heroin-trafficking problem from Afghanistan (in fact after western forces enters it – the heroin production only increased).

  • Samuraijamie

    I had a bizarre experience at the immigration office last year. I changed my visa status from Specialist in Humanities and International Relations, to Spouse of a Japanese National. However, I had 2.5 years of 3 remaining on the former visa, but I only received a 1 year spouse visa back. I objected saying that this was absurd – they were prepared to give me a 3 year visa to an unmarried foreigner, but when I got married to a Japanese they cut this to 1 year. I questioned this and to their credit they recognised the absurdity, but said that was the Rules. However, what was even weirder was the Immigration Officer in an attempt to placate me assured me that my new visa, although shorter, gave me a “higher status”. I was speechless. Do we acquire status through our visas? Is one foreigner higher than another on the basis of the wording of the stamp in their passport? If so, what is the pecking order? All I could see when I looked at the visa was the renewal date and that instead of having 2.5 years without having to go back to the hellhole that is Shinagawa Immigration Bureau, I now had to return within 12 months to repeat the process.

    • Yes, a spouse residency permission gives you higher immigration status. You can work in any job at all (though you still have to report employer information to immigration), which is a major benefit. Also, though your previous “visa” ran for 2.5 years more, if you had lost your job it could have been cancelled at any time; your new status allows you to be to be be a stay-at-home parent or even just an employed bum. If you didn’t think this status was better, why on earth did you apply for it? So you made an additional 2 visits to that “hellhole” you didn’t need to just to get a “visa” you don’t think is any better than your previous status.

      As to the application: it is common for people who haven’t been married for very long or in low grade/insecure employment (such as English teacher) to only get 1 year spouse residency on first application. Also possible that the application written wasn’t that convincing to immigration that this was a genuine marriage, so they err on the side of caution.

      As to your daft questions about about what written in your passport: of course some types of residency status are better with more generous conditions that others. If you really want a rough pecking order of the main types in increasing liberal conditions: visitor, trainee, student/dependant, working(lots of types), spouse, highly skilled foreign professionals, permanent/special permanent. Some people do think this status level carries over into daily life like banks, credit card issuers, employers and cell phone companies. Oddly this seems to the point of this entire Debito article: that long term residents should get a status that gives them more rights (they already do, it’s called permanent residency) and that the label they get, “denizen”, should get more social cachet. Debito’s argument for unequality is unusual in a human rights activist and unrealsitic in terms of voting rights. I don’t think it unusual in other cuntries also for people’s immigration status to have different levels of value, but very rare to give non-citizens suffrage.