Third in a series

Activist Akira Hatate opposes the bills to tighten control of foreign residents, arguing they will not serve the government’s goal of clarifying who is in the country illegally because transgressors will see little benefit in turning themselves in.

“What (the bills will) achieve is to tighten control of law-abiding foreigners, who have no need to be under tight control,” Hatate, director of the nongovernmental organization Japan Civil Liberties Union, told The Japan Times.

The bills, expected to be passed because the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc and the Democratic Party of Japan are behind them, will allow the justice minister to possess personal information on foreigners and punish those who fail to properly report changes in the required information.

The bills oblige the justice minister to clarify the “standard” for granting a special permit to certain people who have overstayed their visa, in order to prompt illegals to come out of hiding. Hatate doubts this will happen, because mitigating criteria for allowing people who are here illegally to stay have yet to be clarified.

“Those who are not sure if they can obtain a special permit to stay will probably remain underground,” he said.

Although he welcomes the government’s move to set a “standard,” Hatate doubts the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Bureau will offer such clarity, and in the end the criteria will remain vague and the justice minister will maintain the discretionary power to grant permission to certain people to stay.

Hatate is calling for creation of a third-party panel to recommend who should qualify for permission to stay in the country, to ensure the process is fair.

He also questions the government’s initiative to reduce the number of overstayers, who number around 110,000 according to Immigration Bureau estimates.

The United States has an estimated 13 million illegal aliens, he said, citing information from the American Civil Liberties Union. The EU had about 8 million as of a few years ago, Hatate added.

“In the U.S. and Europe, it is natural to have a certain number of overstaying foreigners,” he said. “Japan is extremely strict.”

The bills may do little to help the authorities crack down on illegal residents, he said, but they will tighten controls on foreign residents who are here in good standing.

“Instead of cracking down on undocumented foreigners, the new system would be very useful to single out legal residents who are undesirable,” he said. “For example, the justice minister can find out who takes more than 14 days to report an address change.”

Under the bills, foreign residents would be required to report changes in personal information such as address and workplace within 14 days. Failure to do so could result in a ¥200,000 fine.

The bills forbid the justice minister from using personal information for purposes other than managing foreign residents and requires the minister to handle such information in a way that does not infringe on privacy.

But it is unclear if looking through the database to find out who is late in reporting personal information is a violation of privacy beyond the justice ministry’s duties.

Hatate said residents’ privacy will not be protected.

“The provision is meaningless because the justice minister can do whatever he wants with the excuse that he is only managing foreign residents,” he said.

Japanese are also concerned about infringements on their privacy. Their personal information — including name, address, gender and resident registry number — is stored in the Juki Net computer network shared by municipalities used to confirm identification. The difference is that the Juki Net database does not include information identifying law violators.

There have been several court cases in which Japanese have demanded that their personal information be taken off the Juki Net, but none has succeeded, according to the Web site of an association supporting lawsuits seeking to scrap Juki Net.

Hatate also said foreign residents will feel paranoid about failing to report job changes. The bills stipulate that companies and organizations that foreign residents join must “try” to report such newcomers to the Immigration Bureau within 14 days.

“Large companies will probably comply. That will make residents feel pressure should they forget to report a job change. The bureau may pressure companies to make sure they fulfill their reporting duties,” he said.

“The bills are very unbalanced because the government will not be able to control the intended target: undocumented foreigners,” Hatate said. “Instead they will greatly tighten the leash on properly registered foreigners, who do not need monitoring.

“To me, this is the government’s reinforcement of infrastructure to control foreigners. Fingerprinting at airports is to control entrants and the bills are to control residents. The government probably thinks it needs to do this because the number of foreigners will inevitably increase,” he said.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.