Ritsuo Hosokawa, justice minister in the Democratic Party of Japan’s shadow Cabinet, says he succeeded in softening the tone of the government’s immigration reform package.

“When I saw the original bills for the first time, my impression was that they allowed the government to control foreigners too much,” said Hosokawa, a ranking DPJ member of the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee.

The Diet received the original bills from the government, written by officials of the Immigration Bureau and backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, on March 6.

Hosokawa and Yasuhisa Shiozaki, his LDP counterpart, held several meetings to hammer out the final version of the bills.

Among the biggest concerns Hosokawa had was that the proposed legislation was too harsh on people overstaying their visa for legitimate reasons and the possibility that foreign residents’ personal information could be misused.

The original version focused too much on deporting overstaying foreigners, Hosokawa said.

He convinced Shiozaki to agree to add a paragraph stating that “the justice minister must clarify and announce the standard to grant special permission to stay in Japan in order to motivate overstaying foreigners to turn themselves in.”

Currently, there is no clearly set standard and the justice minister scrutinizes each individual case before deciding whether to grant a special permit.

Judging by examples released by the Immigration Bureau, first-time overstayers who have not committed other crimes and have established a status qualifying them to be legal after a temporary overstay tend to be granted the special permit.

“If overstaying foreigners don’t know whether they can continue to stay in Japan or not, they won’t turn themselves in,” he said, without allowing what criteria might qualify someone illegally in the country as having legal “status.”

“With the final version, we found a way to stop overstaying foreigners who are as good a citizen as ordinary Japanese from being worried about deportation or burying themselves underground.”

Another stipulation that Hosokawa convinced Shiozaki to include is a paragraph limiting the justice minister’s use of foreigners’ personal information to the minimum required for performing the duties of the office.

It also requires the minister to handle the information with care to protect the privacy of individuals.

“Some people worry that the justice minister has access to too much personal information, in a violation of privacy, so (the committee) fixed it,” he said.

“Also, there is concern that residence (“zairyu”) card numbers could be leaked outside the Justice Ministry,” he said, explaining why the final version would enable foreign residents to change residence card numbers whenever they want.

While Hosokawa had to give up other revisions, including scrapping the requirement to always carry the zairyu card, he “pretty much incorporated in the final version the opinion of people who had concerns,” he said.

Hosokawa stressed his belief that the bills are necessary. “The government needs to know where foreigners live and how many there are,” he said.

“But we should not tighten our control too much. We don’t want to make ‘good foreigners,’ including overstaying foreigners, feel uncomfortable by micromanaging them,” he said. “We want to establish a society where Japanese and foreigners can live together.”

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