How-tos | LIFELINES

Ailing parents outside of Japan can end up dividing families

by Louise George Kittaka

Care for a sick or elderly parent is an issue that many adult sons and daughters will have to confront sooner or later. In Japan, it has traditionally been the responsibility of the eldest son (and by default, his wife) to look after mom and dad in their twilight years. However, with Japanese people now living longer, families becoming smaller and young adults marrying later — or even not at all — things aren’t quite so clear-cut.

What about when mom and dad live overseas? For long-term residents who have put down roots in Japan, it can get even more complicated. This week’s query comes from K.U., a reader who finds herself torn between her family in Japan and the Middle East.

K.U. lives with her Japanese husband and two preschool children, and enjoys the stability afforded to foreign permanent residents in this country. Certainly, some issues may continue to rankle, such as permanent residents being denied the right to vote despite contributing to society by paying taxes and raising children here. (By comparison, permanent residents in New Zealand may vote if they have lived continuously in the country for 12 months or more at some point.)

On the other hand, marriage to a Japanese citizen allows foreign nationals to live and work here with relative ease. In contrast, under immigration laws introduced in the U.K. in 2012, British nationals with foreign spouses living outside the European Union are subject to minimum-earning requirements in order for their families to settle in Britain. A Japan-based Brit with a Japanese spouse and one child, for example, must have an annual income of at least £22,400 pounds (currently around ¥2.9 million) to sponsor the spouse’s visa to live in Great Britain — a condition that may be difficult for Britons returning to the U.K. to meet.

Having permanent residence in Japan won’t help with a sick parent, as K.U. found last year when her mother suffered a health crisis. Although her mother is still relatively young and hasn’t reached retirement age in her home country, she has been left incapacitated.

“The bottom line is that she has got nobody else except me in the entire world,” says K.U. “Her financial support from the government back home is half of the minimum wage, and her mental and physical state require constant monitoring and assistance, so family care is crucial.”

With K.U. about to give birth to her second child and her husband’s own parents needing help here in Japan, the best option seemed to be for her mother to join the family in Japan. Her husband traveled to the Mideast to fetch his mother-in-law, who entered Japan on a tourist visa.

Since then, K.U. and her husband have been trying to obtain permission for her mother to stay in Japan long-term on a “designated activities” visa, the only type available to her under the circumstances.

“We went to Immigration with all her medical and governmental documents translated, but the immigration office demanded that we go a Japanese hospital to get a diagnosis.”

For K.U., this meant many hours navigating the Japanese medical system with a toddler, a newborn and a very sick parent in tow. Ultimately, they received exactly the same diagnosis from the Japanese doctors for her mother’s medical issues and treatment.

“After we sent the Japanese diagnosis to the immigration office, they said they had forwarded the case to the Ministry of Justice. Two and a half months later, we received a rejection and were told to come in person to the immigration office.”

According to K.U., the immigration official they dealt with was not unsympathetic to the family’s plight, saying how hard it would be for K.U. to have to break up the family to care for her mother overseas.

“To show their ‘understanding,’ she kindly gives us an extra two more months for my mother to prepare to leave, instead of the usual one month,” K.U. says. The ultimate barb was hearing that the reason for rejection was that her mother was “too young”, with the implication that an older parent might have been granted permission to stay under the same circumstances.

Things have worsened since then, both in terms of K.U.’s mother’s health and the family’s financial situation, since her mother’s medical expenses must all be paid up-front. While K.U. accepts that this is their responsibility, it has not been easy to provide for seven people, including her in-laws, on her husband’s salary. They have applied again for the same visa, but while it hasn’t been officially rejected, the outcome doesn’t look favorable.

“We got a call from Immigration saying that in order for them to consider our application, my mother must be medically unable to take her flight back, i.e., heart failure or coma, so basically it is a rejection of the second application,” K.U. reports.

Her mother has about a month before she must leave Japan.

“It is devastating for our family. I have to go with her, which will break up my family,” K.U. says. “My husband can’t come because his work and parents are here, and I have to take my two little kids with me.”

K.U. foresees many years of being a divided family ahead, with no easy way around the situation. If any readers have successfully applied to bring a parent who is a foreign national to live in Japan, please share your experiences.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for NHK’s “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send your comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp