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In a landmark decision Wednesday, three members of an Iranian family were granted special residence permission by Justice Minister Hideo Usui. The three, having overstayed their visas, petitioned immigration authorities for special status in September. It is the first time the government has issued this kind of permit, considered to be the last resort for foreigners who have overstayed their visas and are not eligible for visa extension. This status has usually been issued solely to overstaying foreigners who have Japanese relatives, usually through marriage with Japanese nationals. Legal experts said the move signifies “a new standard” for special residency. The family, which currently lives in Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, has lived in Japan for nine years. Their 16-year-old son is enrolled at a Japanese high school. The three were part of a 21-member group of foreigners which called on the Justice Ministry to grant them permission to stay in September. In granting the permission Wednesday, the ministry considered the fact that the son has been going to school here for the past nine years and could have faced difficulties in his home country if the family were deported, according to sources close to the case. The landmark decision, in which previous criteria for issuing the special permission were drastically eased, sets new standards for considering these types of cases, as well as a new tone for the country’s immigration policy as a whole, said lawyer Katsuo Yoshinari, who has supported the 21-member group. However, the ministry the same day rejected a similar application by a Myanmar family and detained the 43-year-old father at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau in Tokyo’s Kita Ward until the family can be deported to Myanmar. In rejecting the family’s request, the ministry judged that the 2-year-old daughter is young enough to adapt to a new environment, sources said. There is “no reason” for the family to stay in Japan, the family’s lawyers quoted the ministry as saying. The lawyers said they will soon file an administrative lawsuit asking the ministry to reconsider their decision, taking into account the fact that the family, which has lived in Japan for 10 years, is established here. Meanwhile, the 39-year-old father of the Iranian family said the long-term visas his family have acquired will end their financial difficulties, caused by the family’s ineligibility for social welfare benefits together with low wages necessitated by the lack of proper visas. But he added that he had mixed feelings, since the fate of others in the 21-member group is still unclear. His son said that he is glad to have been granted the visa, which will enable him to enroll in a Japanese university. On Friday, Usui officially said he had decided to grant the permission to some in the group, without revealing any names or numbers. Sources close to the case said the ministry has already decided to grant similar permission to nine members of two other Iranian families, adding that another Iranian family of four will be investigated further before a final decision is made. The ministry has decided not to grant similar permission to two other members of the group, an Iranian man and a Bangladeshi man, who claimed that they needed to stay in Japan to receive treatment for injuries that occurred at their workplaces. At the time, Usui declined to say whether the decision heralded a relaxation of existing criteria for granting permission to stay in Japan, saying that individual circumstances would always be taken into account when determining eligibility. Hiroshi Komai, a Tsukuba University professor who supported the activities of the group, said he appreciates the ministry’s move, which he said considered foreigners’ human rights for the first time. But he was critical of the fact that the ministry almost exclusively based its decision on the children’s situation, adding that the foreigners’ living conditions as a whole should be taken into consideration. He also claimed the ministry must immediately set clear standards for granting special residency permission, which would allow more foreigners who have overstayed their visas to apply for residential status. There were 268,421 foreigners living in Japan without proper visas as of July 1, 1999, according to the ministry. Lawyers concerned with the case say it is likely that Wednesday’s landmark decision will prompt foreigners under similar circumstances to rush to immigration authorities to apply for the residence status.

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