The Justice Ministry plans to tighten its visa screening of foreign women entering Japan as dancers and singers in an effort to prevent crime syndicates from forcing them into prostitution, ministry officials said Thursday.

The decision comes amid growing international criticism of Japan’s poor efforts to combat human trafficking.

In its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released in June, the U.S. State Department put Japan on a special watch list of countries that are on the verge of falling into the worst category.

The ministry is planning to propose to its Legislative Council in September revisions to the Penal Code, one of which would create a new criminal charge for human trafficking.

It is also planning to revise a ministerial ordinance that serves as a basis for approving the residency status of foreigners who come to Japan on entertainment visas, the officials said.

The current ordinance requires operators of entertainment facilities that hire foreigners to have no record of convictions for bringing women in illegally or for operating prostitutes.

The ministry plans to add regulations to prevent crime syndicates from taking any part in bringing foreigners here to work in the entertainment industry, the officials said, adding that a concrete plan will be mapped out by the end of this year.

It is also considering setting stricter conditions on the number of employees at entertainment facilities and the size of stages and waiting rooms for performers to ensure that companies are only offering entertainment performances, the officials said.

At present, the ministry investigates only if there is a report of a problem with an operator or a facility.

Under the proposed visa screening plan, the ministry would confirm that the operators were actually hiring women for entertainment purposes when the applications were filed and when the visas were renewed.

The ministry would file criminal complaints if it found evidence of prostitution.

Activities that are covered by entertainment visas include participation in music concerts, theater and sporting events, and the duration of stay lasts from three months to one year. Those granted visas are prohibited from working as bar hostesses.

Ministry data show that the number of people entering Japan on entertainment visas has risen since 1997.

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