Japan’s harsh and restrictive immigration policies, with indefinite detention for visa overstayers and minuscule refugee acceptance numbers (0.4% of refugee applications were approved in 2019), have long drawn foreign media attention and criticism — to little apparent effect. But that may be changing.

In March, the death of a Sri Lankan woman at an immigration facility in Nagoya elicited widespread condemnation. Ratnayake Liyanage Wishma Sandamali had spent months fruitlessly complaining to staff of ill health, and public criticism increased when it was revealed that the facility had refused her repeated requests for outside hospital treatment — while releasing dozens of other detainees due to coronavirus infection concerns.

Soon after her death, the government and the ruling coalition dropped plans to amend the nation’s immigration law to make it even stricter, including a proposal to criminally prosecute asylum seekers who do not comply with deportation orders.