Immigration authorities, police and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Friday they will take joint action to halve the number of foreigners without visas in the capital within five years.

The Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau, the bureau’s Tokyo branch, the metropolitan government and the Metropolitan Police Department issued a joint statement saying they would cooperate more closely toward this goal.

They believe that half of the estimated 250,000 undocumented foreigners in Japan live or work in Tokyo.

“An increasing number of visaless foreigners engage in serious crimes, and it is pointed out that the problem is closely linked to organized crime by foreigners,” Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa asserted during Friday’s news conference.

“Solving the problem of illegal residents is a pending task for regaining public safety in Japan,” he figured, adding that closer cooperation by administrative, police and immigration authorities will be a touchstone for the country’s immigration policy in the future.

According to the statement, immigration officers and police will regularly conduct joint operations aimed at finding visa violators or illegal entrants. At present, such sweeps are only conducted in occasional crackdowns.

Police will play an expanded role in tracking down foreigners without visas. When they identify anyone who has entered Japan illegally or engaged in other immigration-related offenses, police will keep them in custody and hand them over to immigration authorities, the statement says.

The immigration control law allows immigration offices to request police assistance and use police cells to hold visa violators or illegal entrants when necessary.

According to Friday’s statement, police will respond to these requests as often as possible.

The planned crackdown is expected to result in the detention of an increasing number of foreigners.

It may thus raise concerns among human rights groups that they could be detained for unnecessarily extended periods during investigations and while awaiting deportation.

But Justice Ministry officials said police cooperation with immigration control will ease the burden on immigration officers and thus facilitate prompt deportation procedures.

The statement also calls for stricter screening of visa applicants as a means of preventing potential visa violators from entering Japan.

It also requires the four parties to work together in cracking down on employers of illegal residents, brokers and anyone else who encourages foreigners to unlawfully stay and work in Japan.

It also calls for tighter controls on various immigration-related crimes, including passport counterfeiting and underground banking activities.

Ishihara joins in

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said Friday that the metropolitan government would step up efforts to crack down on crimes committed by illegal foreign residents in cooperation with the central government.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government issued a joint declaration with the Justice Ministry, immigration authorities and police the same day, saying that Tokyo would reduce the number of illegal foreign residents by half within five years.

“It is the first time for Tokyo to set a target with the central government to reduce crimes of illegal foreign residents,” Ishihara told a news conference.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will dispatch personnel to immigration offices to strengthen immigration checks if it is requested to do so, Ishihara said.

“We would continuously call for the government to work with us against crimes of illegal foreigners in Tokyo,” he said.

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