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In a ruling that overturned a Welfare Ministry practice, a Chinese woman who had overstayed her visa won the right to obtain a National Health Insurance card Thursday in a civil suit lodged against Musashino City.

The 30-year-old woman, whose name was withheld, had lived in Japan for more than five years, two of them in Musashino City, when she sought a National Health Insurance card there in April 1996.

The city office denied the plaintiff’s request, in accordance with a notice from the Welfare Ministry stating that local governments must not grant National Health Insurance to foreigners who do not have a visa valid for at least one year.

The district court ruled that the city’s action was illegal, because the Chinese woman, who is married to a Japanese resident, could substantiate her resolve to continue residency in Japan.

The court said it is irrational and inappropriate to treat Japanese and foreign residents differently in interpreting stable and continued residency, which is the sole legal criteria for a National Health Insurance card.

“Case by case, we will build up a clearer criteria for what is meant by ‘stable and continued residency’ for foreigners,” said Syoji Yazawa, one of the lawyers for the woman.

Yazawa said that this case will serve as a precedent for at least 10,000 more foreign residents in Japan to obtain National Health Insurance cards. Foreigners without National Health Insurance run the risk of being denied medical treatment because hospitals worry about their ability to pay the high medical costs, he said.

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