Ruling denying welfare for foreign residents finds homegrown, biased support


Staff Writer

The landmark Supreme Court ruling in July that found permanent residents of Japan legally ineligible for public assistance is already having an impact. Moves are afoot both at the national and local levels to try to scale back or remove welfare payments to foreign residents.

In a lawsuit filed by an 82-year-old Chinese woman from Oita Prefecture, the nation’s top court made it clear that permanent foreign residents do not qualify for public assistance because they are not Japanese nationals. Article 1 of the 1950 Public Assistance Law states the law concerns “all nationals,” which the court said referred only to Japanese citizens.

Despite the ruling, the welfare ministry has stood by its long-standing policy of offering the same level of welfare protection to foreigners as Japanese, based on a notice it issued to municipal governments in 1954.

In line with the ministry policy, the municipal governments have distributed welfare benefits — ranging from cash assistance to free health care services to housing aid — to needy foreigners with permanent or long-term residency status, including the spouses of Japanese and migrant workers from Brazil.

But the July ruling has given momentum to some forces, including those harboring anti-foreigner sentiments and advocates of cutting “waste” in government spending, to try to limit foreigners’ access to welfare.

The minor opposition party Jisedai no To (Party for Future Generations), co-founded by ultranationalist Shintaro Ishihara, plans to submit bills to the extraordinary Diet session that would give destitute foreigners a year to choose between two extremes: becoming naturalized citizens or leaving the country.

The move follows an August proposal, by a team of lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic party tasked with eliminating wasteful state spending, to restrict welfare assistance to foreigners.

“The welfare outlays to foreigners run up to ¥122 billion per year,” the Aug. 4 report by the LDP team said. “We must say it is difficult to maintain the status quo.”

The team also said the government “should create guidelines (on public assistance) for foreigners who arrive in Japan, and consider deporting those who cannot maintain a living.”

Taro Kono, a member of the Lower House who heads the LDP project team, said the envisioned revision to the welfare system would not affect permanent residents, but those on mid- to long-term visas. The changes would likely materialize in the form of denied access to public aid for a certain period after one’s arrival in Japan, to prevent abuse by those coming here just to receive welfare, he said. He added that the team has yet to decide on the number of months or years before foreigners would be granted access.

According to Kono, the rationale for creating a probational period is a provision in the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law that states the government would deny entry to “a person who is likely to become a burden on the Japanese government or a local public entity because of an inability to make a living.”

“People who come to Japan on mid- to long-term visas would undergo a lot of events here, and some of them might lose their ability to make a living and apply for public assistance. That’s fine. But if they apply for assistance right after they arrive in Japan, that would mean they made a false claim (about their reason for coming),” Kono told The Japan Times earlier this month.

“Likewise when they renew their visas, they are supposed to have means to support themselves or otherwise their requests for visa renewals would be rejected. But if it turns out that they cannot sustain their living in, say, six months after their visas are renewed, that would mean they were not truthful about their means when they applied for a renewed visa, and (this would constitute) grounds for denial of public assistance.”

The LDP team also proposed that all welfare recipients be prescribed generic drugs unless otherwise specified by doctors. If they want to be prescribed patented drugs, they should pay for their share of the costs, according to the team’s report.

The team’s proposal for an eligibility requirement for foreigners based on their period of stay appears to be more or less in line with practices in other advanced countries.

Most European countries do not have a nationality clause for welfare benefits, but do list a residency period as a condition for eligibility, said Shinichi Oka, a professor of social security at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo.

At the same time, in Europe there is little distinction among different visa statuses, Oka said, noting that whether people have permanent resident status doesn’t affect their chances of qualifying for welfare.

“I’m not aware of any major European countries that (enforce) a nationality clause for public assistance eligibility,” Oka said. “The only requirement they have is that the applicants have lived in the country for a certain period of time.”

While the U.S. and Britain in principle deny welfare benefits to illegal aliens, in France, foreigners who have entered or are staying illegally in the country are also considered as “having the right to live” and are often deemed eligible for welfare benefits, Oka said.

In the U.S., the 1996 welfare reform law severely restricted eligibility for federal public assistance for noncitizens arriving after Aug. 22, 1996, the date the law was re-enacted, according to a Congressional Research Service report issued Sept. 24.

“Laws in place for the past 15 years restrict the eligibility of legal permanent residents (LPR), refugees, asylees and other noncitizens for most means-tested public aid,” the report said.

“The LPRs with a substantial work history or military connection are eligible for the full range of programs, as are asylees, refugees and other humanitarian cases (for at least five to seven years after entry). Other LRPs must meet additional eligibility requirements.”

For example, to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, applicants must have been legal residents for five years or be under age 18.

For the Supplemental Security Income program, which provides cash assistance for basic needs such as food and clothing, and for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is cash aid for families with dependent children, noncitizens generally are ineligible for five years after entry and then eligible at the option of the state, the U.S. report says.

The 1996 reform had a significant effect on reducing welfare use by noncitizens, Michael Fix and Ron Haskins wrote in their 2002 report to the Brookings Institution.

Due in part to the 1996 welfare reform, the number of noncitizen families that became naturalized U.S. citizens rose rapidly, but that still does not fully explain why the use of welfare declined sharply among noncitizens, the researchers wrote, noting there is “strong evidence that the exclusion of immigrants from food stamps is leading to rising food insecurity among non-citizen households.”

In Japan, the moves to restrict foreign residents’ access to welfare are tinged with growing anti-foreigner and even racist sentiments. On Twitter, a keyword search for “seikatsu hogo” (welfare) and “gaikokujin” (foreign people) turns up a long list of sensationally worded tweets calling for an immediate ban on welfare payments to foreigners, especially Korean and Chinese residents.

The July court ruling also triggered a male resident of Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, to submit a petition to the Narashino Municipal Assembly last month to freeze welfare benefits to foreigners. The petition had a long and winded title laced with brackets that translates roughly as “A petition to immediately suspend (the inapproriate execution of) public assistance for foreigners, who fall outside the legal protection (ruled so by the Supreme Court) and yet who are given protection with no legal justification at the discretion of the city of Narashino (in the spirit of charity).”

This male citizen submitted a similar petition in the March and June sessions of the assembly, but in his latest bid, he specifically cited the Supreme Court ruling to back up his claim that foreigners should be denied welfare entirely.

The petition was voted down unanimously by the assembly on Sept. 30, with many members arguing the move is discriminatory. But for the same September session, the man submitted another petition that called for creation of a hotline to report suspected cases of welfare abuse, which he claims is particularly prevalent “among foreigners and the mentally disabled,” according to assembly member Hisako Ichikawa.

“While both petitions were voted down, nine of the 29 assembly members voted in favor of creating a hotline,” Ichikawa, a member of the Japanese Communist Party, said.

“It looks like the man will submit a similar petition again in the upcoming December session. We are watching closely what will happen next time — whether the number of members supporting the hotline might go up.”

  • timefox

    The Japanese government guarantees Japanese welfare, the Chinese government guarantees Chinese people’s welfare, the South Korean government guarantees South Koreans’ welfare, the North Korea government guarantees the welfare of the people from North Korea, the American government guarantees Americans’ welfare, and the Canada government guarantees Canadians’ welfare.

    I think that it will solve if the treaty which guarantees a foreigner’s welfare mutually is contracted between the Japanese government and foreign government.

    • Nelson

      I have to disagree with you here. If you are in Japan as a long term resident and if you were paying taxes, you have the right to civic services.

      In other words, foreigners working in Japan have the right to send their kids to the local school (at the same cost as other Japanese). Likewise foreigners working in Japan should have the right to draw on emergency welfare when necessary.

      Now if you are a foreigner who came to Japan and never paid taxes then yeah, you don’t have the right to collect welfare. But if you were in Japan and worked for like 5-10 years (however long it took to get permanent residency), then you should have the right to draw on welfare for as long as other Japanese citizens.

      This issue seems to be conflated with political rights which is something entirely different. (Foreigners don’t get the right to vote, and this is balanced by the fact that foreigners will not be drafted in times of war.)

      • Gordon Graham

        One condition of a foreigner’s stay is that he or she has a source of income. If they can’t fulfil that condition they become the responsibility of their native country. The taxes they pay while in Japan help pay for the services they enjoy while they are here. If they’ve been in good standing for 10 years they are eligible to become citizens and enjoy the benefits of citizenship. Seems reasonable to me.

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        And yet you still haven’t become one, have you Gordon? Or have you now?

      • Gordon Graham

        No, I haven’t

      • Paul Johnny Lynn

        Nah, didn’t think so, still “do as I say but not as I do” then.

      • Gordon Graham

        What did I say to do?

      • phu

        I think it’s a bit arbitrary to say that, despite paying exactly the same taxes as citizens, long-term residents are not entitled to the same services.

        Yes, one condition of residence is the ability to support yourself. But that’s simply a codification of normal expectations: Citizens are also expected to be able to support themselves; welfare is not the default state, and being on it isn’t something the government considers a perfectly acceptable alternative to working for anyone. The difference is, as a foreigner, they have somewhere to send you back to. With citizens you can’t really kick them out.

        I don’t think it’s necessarily unreasonable to say “citizens get this, non-citizens get less (within reason relevant to whatever is currently considered due for human rights).” I do think it’s unreasonable to charge two people the same tax and provide different services in return. Don’t want to give foreigners the option of welfare? That seems nasty to me, but OK. In that case, it’s extremely disingenuous to make them pay into the program. An individual or company doing something like this would rightfully be accused of fraud.

      • Paying taxes has never been a prerequisite for receiving livelihood protection welfare. There are all sorts of real world examples of nationals (in many countries) who never pay a cent in taxes yet are legally entitled to welfare.

      • phu

        True. But that’s the opposite of my point. These are taxes that directly fund things that would benefit us, and we are paying them. That there are people who receive those services who don’t pay for them isn’t really relevant.

        It’s not that paying taxes is or should be a prerequisite for receiving any particular service. It’s that paying taxes should entitle the payer to the benefits funded by said taxes. It’s one thing to say that some people can be helped despite not being able to pay. It’s entirely another thing to say that some people who do pay can’t access the benefits they’re funding that are realistically relevant to them.

        Also, without taking a position on your example of men funding women’s services, you’re giving an opinion there. I don’t think it’s valid to say that services only for women should be funded by men as well (more to the point, that any party should necessarily be required to fund services they fundamentally can’t use). I’m also comfortable with some of my taxes going towards services I don’t or can’t take advantage of, but in both of our cases these are personal points of view, and they can’t and shouldn’t be generalized past those specific instances.

      • OsFish

        Phu, resident foreigners ARE entitled to this benefit. They have been since 1954. The ruling has not stopped this.

        All the ruling has done is clarify the legal basis on which foreigners get this benefit. They get it because of a MHLW notice instructing municipalities to make no distinction between Japanese and non-Japanese applicants.

      • OsFish

        Gordon, foreigners do get this benefit. They’ve been eligible since 1954, and nothing has changed that.

        That long-term residents should not have access to assistance seems pretty barbaric to me, just because they haven’t got the right passport.

      • Charles

        I think we need to be careful to distinguish between “long-term residents” and “permanent residents.”

        “Permanent residents” (永住者 or 特別永住者) have almost universally been here for many, many years. An unmarried foreigner needs to live here for 10+ years in most cases to claim permanent residency. Most permanent residents in Japan were born in Japan, with the remainder becoming permanent residents only after working hard here for many, many years. I fully support their right to receive most social services that Japanese citizens do.

        “Long-Term Resident” (定住者), on the other hand, is a misnomer, because many of them haven’t actually resided here for a long time, and in fact, the longer they reside here, the more eligible they become to LEAVE the “Long-Term Resident” status and just get “Permanent Resident” status. “Long-Term Resident” is a Status of Residence (SOR) that is given out to certain people that the Japanese government favors, especially Japanese-Brazilian Nikkei-jin. They do not need to wait a long time to receive this SOR–it is pretty much automatic for people with Japanese blood. And after only five years on this status, they can apply for “Permanent Resident” status.

        I agree that it is “pretty barbaric” to prevent permanent residents from receiving assistance, but I do not see why a so-called “Long-Term Resident,” who may have only been here for a year or two, should be entitled to it.

        Perhaps a law along the lines of “You must have worked in Japan for 10+ years to be entitled to receive welfare.” would be a better solution than the current Supreme Court ruling (which is too strict).

      • Gordon Graham

        How long should they be able to collect welfare? Indefinitely? Should Japan take on China’s unemployment problem…with a shrinking birthrate and ageing population?

      • OsFish

        If the alternative is letting these people starve, then how long do you think it should be? You might want to remember that seikatsu hogo recipients are most commonly abandoned mothers, the disabled and the elderly. If, as is the case in the majority of modern industrial economies, access to social protection is primarily controlled by access to the labour market (including as dependants of someone who works), you are going to have to have a safety net for those who cannot (in general or because of circumstance) conform to this ideal-type person. Blaming them for the flaws in the system does not seem right to me. The welfare system should serve the needs of the people, rather than the people serve the needs of the welfare system.

        I don’t quite understand what you mean by taking on China’s unemployment problem. If you mean to refer to Chinese SPRs (who count as “foreign” for this law) as “China’s problem”, I’d have to disagree with you quite strongly. The SPR status arose out of the historical actions of the Japanese state. While I dislike the modern political tendency in China and Korea that bashes present-day Japan as if the war were yesterday and not three generations ago, that doesn’t mean there is no legacy at all. These people were born and raised in Japan and should be treated as citizens for the purposes of social support.

      • Gordon Graham

        What visa’s are the disabled and elderly on here? If they are as you say born here then their citizenship should be expedited as quickly as possible. Abandoned mothers? Are their children not registered? If so, tracking down their deadbeat fathers shouldn’t be a problem. If we’re talking about English teachers or factory workers who married to Japanese then divorced after being granted long term residency, then let Canada, China or the Philippines take care of them.

      • OsFish

        It looks to me that the majority of “foreign” recipients are SPRs. Instead of forcing them on profound issues of identity (a problem which Japan helped greatly to cause), I think they should be classed as citizens for the purposes of this benefit. It would be a lot more efficient than processing that many people.

        If it’s an English teacher or a factory worker, then they will, by definition, have been working, and will receive unemployment benefit. So seikatsu hogo wouldn’t apply in this instance.

        As for putting all the burden on abandoned mothers or enforcement agencies to recover the costs of childcare for their children, this is really not a satisfactory solution. This would reduce access to support to a lottery. Of course, going after fathers for the cost of seikatsu hogo while guaranteeing payouts to the mother anyway – underwriting child support – would be a different matter. All you would see without such underwriting is a rise in child poverty. That, I would hope you can agree, is a bad thing.

        There is a popular myth that people choose to be destitute. I’d be careful of buying into that myth. Personally, I think a society that helps the most vulnerable is better than one that shoves them on a boat at the first opportunity.

      • Gordon Graham

        The only foreign resident that I’ve known of who is on welfare is a Canadian who worked as an English teacher for over a decade and became exhausted from the monotony of it…I don’t begrudge him his welfare (not unemployment insurance) nor anyone else theirs. In fact, I prefer everyone have access to social assistance even if there are abuses. That said, I do understand the government taking measures to prevent abuse. I hope, as seems the case that those in need will get the help they need…and that English teachers making money on the side will refrain from indignation over this ruling.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    I’d like to see solid figures on exactly how many non-Japanese are collecting, and how much. I find it just a tad difficult to take “…up to ¥122 billion per year…” from a report by an LDP team as gospel. While it’s certainly not just Japan going even further down the road of blaming economic victims for their plight, it should by no means be applauded. Speaking from personal experience, Japanese employers bend and break the law regarding employees (foreign and national) with virtual impunity. One minute you’re a regular salary earner, next you’re skirting destitution and forced to seek whatever help you can find. Your former employer simply carries on and even lies about you. It’s difficult for me to see anything beyond a resurgence in right-wing sentiment, and the usual “blame the foreigners for the country’s woes” behind this. Again, not exclusive to Japan by any means, but none the less shameful for that.

  • Charles Henry Wetzel

    “The amount of welfare being paid to foreigners is 122 billion yen! That’s a really big number!” That’s what the average man on the street thinks.

    But wait a second, let’s actually do the math. Yeah, I know, you hate math, but it’s okay, we can use a calculator!

    Japan’s GDP is 536,122,300,000,000 yen (over 536 TRILLION yen). So 122 billion yen is less than 0.03% of Japan’s economy. Basically, Shintaro Ishihara with his Jisedai no Tou, and the LDP, are wasting countless hours of time on something that, at best, will save Japan 0.03% of its GDP.

    To make an analogy, I make about $28,000 a year. So this is the same as me OBSESSING and LOSING SLEEP AT NIGHT over how I can save $8 per year.

    • rossdorn

      What is your problem?

      Ishihara and other japanese people are honestly telling you what they think of foreigners…

      I am quite happy that this is made clear. It is THEIR country, if I do not like it, I will leave. But I still appreciate that I can have a true picture of the reality here.

      • Charles

        rossdorn wrote:
        “It is THEIR country, if I do not like it, I will leave.”

        Go right ahead. You are free to do whatever you want.

        Whether I stay or leave is between me and the Japanese government. They issue me my visa, not you. Liking every single policy is not a requirement to keep extending my visa, fortunately.

      • rossdorn

        Looks like you have more problems than just welfare?
        Where did I even hint, that I do not like it here?

  • Charles Henry Wetzel

    And my second point is this: In the ’80s, Japan wanted cheap labor, but it didn’t want immigration (in other words, it was xenophobic).

    So they decided to let only Japanese-Brazilians immigrate, because they were racially Japanese and would therefore supposedly make better immigrants (in other words, another decision motivated by xenophobia–“we only want foreigners if the foreigners are Japanese”).

    Now, fast-forward to 2014. According to the article, Brazilians often go on welfare, because they can’t find jobs. Well wait a second–I thought that Japan’s unemployment rate was only 3.5%! That’s one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates! Why can’t they find jobs? Let’s see…what’s that word again? I think it starts with an x…
    Xena: Warrior Princess?
    OH!!! That’s right–xenophobia!

    So…xenophobia, xenophobia, and then xenophobia again led to this situation… Maybe if Japan had instead looked for “hard-working immigrants” or “well-educated immigrants,” instead of focusing on “racially Japanese immigrants,” they wouldn’t have this problem now.

    • Crusader00

      Keep Japan Japanese. All gaijin out. As an otaku, no need to turn the Land of the Rising Sun into a fetid Turd World hell like Detroit.

      This is why I hate cultural Marxist organs like the Japan Times which act as gatekeepers for the news from Nippon.

  • Charles Henry Wetzel

    And my third point:
    “According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security
    Research, Japan’s total social welfare benefits reached ¥103.487
    trillion in fiscal 2010, topping ¥100 trillion for the first time.”

    Okay, so in Japan, the total welfare budget is 103.487 trillion yen. But only 0.122 trillion yen of that goes to foreigners, so that means that the other 103.365 trillion yen are going to Japanese people!

    Here, let’s do some more math:

    103.487 trillion yen / 127 million Japanese = Each Japanese person is, on average, sucking 814,858 yen per year from the welfare system!

    Now let’s do the math for foreigners:
    122 billion yen / 2 million foreigners = Each foreigner is, on average, sucking 61,000 yen per year from the welfare system!

    So…who’s REALLY sucking welfare, here? I guess I now know where my income tax (所得税) and 8% consumption tax (消費税) are going, now…

    …you’re welcome, Japan!

  • OsFish

    Very bad headline (again, and not just from this paper). Foreigners are eligible for social assistance. Period. It’s really important that resident foreigners in need know this. Even after the ruling they have the same access to these benefits as Japanese, as the text says.

    The ruling did NOT make foreigners ineligible for seikatsu hogo. The ruling explicitly recognised that foreigners are eligible, as the article text states, under the 1954 Ministry notice, which clearly and unequivocally states that foreigners should be treated the same as Japanese in assessment for this (means-tested) benefit.

    All the ruling did was make clear the grounds for eligibility. Japanese because of the law itself, resident foreigners because of the notice.

    Suggestions by tiny right-wing parties can be safely ignored, as can the thoroughly horrible individual wanting to target the mentally disabled. The LDP group, however, demands attention. The reforms suggested by Kono sound like a bad idea. While restricting access to benefits to those who have just arrived in the country is a common practice around the world, Japan is not a country which accepts large numbers of refugees or typically grants residence visas without employment or clear financial support anyway. The number of people immediately needing help is going to be very small. I cannot imagine it would save much money. Of course, if Japan is preparing to open up immigration to help ease the population crisis, this might alter the situation.

    I cannot make much sense of the presumption that someone who loses their job soon after a work visa renewal has somehow cheated the system. Company bankruptices and lay offs are not timed to match the individual visa schedules of foreign workers. The person should also have social insurance if they have been working, so again, we’re probably talking about very few people falling through the gaps in such a situation. It looks like a move that sounds aggressive and tough, but will just cause unnecessary pain to a small number of people.

    The people who need seikatsu hogo have fallen through the gaps in the system. They are vulnerable, often old, or single (abandoned) mothers, or disabled. It is a very diseased kind of populism that seeks to save money like this.

    The only issue that needs looking at is help for those municipalities with a large population of welfare recipients, both Japanese and foreign. These places, which foot part of the bill for the benefit, will be feeling the strain. However, recipient counts are symptoms, not causes of social problems. Cutting welfare doesn’t solve the problem.

    • Ron NJ

      “All the ruling did was make clear the grounds for eligibility.
      Japanese because of the law itself, resident foreigners because of the notice.”
      And there’s the real problem with Japan: bureaucratic whims trumping the rule of law. Using this logic, if the Justice ministry issued a notice stating “it is legal to kill foreigners” despite the law saying “you can’t kill people”, does it suddenly become legal to kill foreigners because the ministry said so? No? Then why are you applying that sort of logic to welfare?

      • OsFish

        I really don’t follow what you are saying here, with either your suggestion of bureaucracy trumping law, or your analogy. Perhaps – and the reporting on this has been very unclear – there’s been a misunderstanding. It’s really important to remember that this ruling does NOT deny foreigners welfare. It simply does no such thing at all. It clarifies the basis of foreigner eligibility.

        The 1954 notice *extends* eligibility for the benefit to the non-Japanese resident population. That is why foreigners can and do get this seikatsu hogo benefit that the ruling is about. The 1954 notice is, in itself, a good thing.

        Thus, law is not being “trumped” by bureaucratic notices. The ruling, by recognising the notice, effectively means that the notice and the law do not conflict. One could have a concern that it is easier for the notice to be rescinded than for the law to be changed, but that’s not what you appear to be saying here.

        If your analogy were that there was a Japanese law that said it was legal to kill Japanese citizens, and then a Justice Ministry notice instructed the courts to treat foreigner-killing in the same way they treat Japanese-killing, it would be comparable to the current situation.

    • bobby

      You really believe this ” the 1954 Ministry notice, which clearly and unequivocally states that foreigners should be treated the same as Japanese”> the reality is untrue, because people like you are misinterpreting what the meaning really means or else the key words “should be” would be removed. and replaced with “will be” a huge difference.

      • OsFish


        The reason that I want to make clear what the situation actually is, is that people in poverty need to know what help they can get. By spreading misinformation, bobby, you and other commenters here may be causing serious harm to individuals and families in serious dire straits. Non-uptake of welfare benefits is a serious problem. People don’t ask for help if they think they cannot get any.

        I understand your desire to appear cynical and cool about politics, but please understand – I am not misreading anything. It appears you may be unaware of what actually happens. Foreigners can and do get this particular benefit, the ruling recognises they get this benefit, and the ruling has absolutely no effect on why they get this benefit. Municipal governments with large numbers of foreign claimants have directly stated (when journalists asked them) that the ruling changes nothing, and their foreign residents who qualify will still get this benefit, and on the same terms as Japanese.

        We are talking here about the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. It’s really important they know what help they can get.

      • bobby

        Actually you’re quite wrong in your assumptions, and that is exactly what they are; Osfish, you say “People don’t ask for help if they think they cannot get any.” and you’re quite far from reality. I on the other hand do know from first hand experiences of what you term poorest and vulnerable peoples right up to seeing individuals die right in front of my eyes both. I know exactly what you’re about and it’s nothing but meddling in what you have no “real life experiences” from the poor side but from text and living it up. You assume and accuse me passing misinformation which again your assumption is quite wrong as I know from living proof. I have taken both foreigners and even local nationals the poorest of the poor to that help and the Japanese system has failed them due to the mere bureaucracy of forms, and their system. With a foreigner is much much worse and this includes those who have resided here for quite along time, speak fluent Japanese, live like Japanese, and even held jobs like Japanese to include paying of taxes like a Japanese, and been denied again and again each time for another trumped up reason or another, and at the same time I have been fortunate to see the system work for a Japanese in the same situation as the foreigner and the foreigner was denied. Like I said: there is a huge difference in “should” and “will”. If that changes then its a different ballgame, surely even you are not that obtuse. One more thing, you are way and I mean way off and outside your mind if you think for one minute I am being cool and cynical about politics, you on the other hand talk a big game but that doesn’t mean you have the experiences to back it up, now who is assuming. At least am man enough to say I assume that much about you. Be it right or wrong, but I have to go with “right”.

      • OsFish

        With all due respect, I think you may have confused different kinds of social support. We’re specifically talking here about a benefit called seikatsu hogo. Very few people ever rely on this benefit, and it’s typically highly marginalised people. If you know lots of different people of many different nationalities who have qualified to apply for a form of financial support, as well as lots of Japanese, I think you may be thinking about something else. As it happens, “foreigners” actually receive proportionately a slightly larger amount of seikatsu hogo than Japanese relative to their population size. The clear majority of foreign recipients don’t simply speak fluent Japanese, it’s probably their only native language – they’re special permanent residents. It’s true that seikatsu hogo is bureaucratic, but that’s the nature of a means-tested benefit. There is an investigation into the applicant’s means, including their assets and relatives and close associates who may be able to support them.

        I apologise if you think it’s unfair to call your attitude to politics cynical, but that is how I read your Disqus feed.

      • bobby

        First, thank you for your apology, same here. I’m aware I may not always be correct and responsible enough to tell anyone when I am
        wrong. The posting of what you called
        cynical was intentional to have a discussion with someone while weeding out the trolls. It’s hard enough to find good people in Japan to have a great discussion one on one and it’s getting even rarer on blogs. Though we may not come to agree on points we can share a nice discussion.

        You could be right; perhaps I may have misunderstood the different kinds of support, in your opinion. However, in this particular case, I think not, one reason is experience working closely with urban development groups helping the poor and homeless in Japan for several
        years including in obtaining seikatsu hogo. Japan has not done enough work in getting nor is helping some of these people quite as easy as it sounds, including the locals
        thus leaving a long road ahead as tougher times arrive.

        On the same token though not entirely is it fair to place all the blame on the Diet or programs strange as it sounds some by choice of their own, choose to live homeless or stay in poverty. It is the other unspoken side of the board that I am trying to bring to light, racism against foreigners and poor by those have the authority to use racism that clouds their judgment and do what the system is intended to do, but like insurance you can’t see or touch it but it’s there. I have lived among those who receive the monthly government support or seikatsu hogo and found lots of problems that in regards to helping both foreigners and
        locals in most cases it’s a system that is not friendly towards foreigners and it has nothing to do with their ability to speak or read Japanese or the
        investigation itself but more with the bureaucracy of a system that doesn’t want foreigners spearheaded by the shadow bosses. I understand taking into account investigating ones support means, but it has been experience in each case denied, despite what was said upfront, the decision makers behind the scenes, what you, others and I don’t’ see are the ones who have the authority to yea or nay the applicant despite favorable investigation outcome to receive support, especially when it comes to a foreigner despite what the law says, or is interpreted,
        which I will add, very politely and quietly were told the main reasons by the staff but were very sorry for the outcomes. Now the few foreigners and others who do receive benefits foreigners are merely “tokens” nothing less otherwise it’s too blatant and they allow a few to take advantage of the system. That part is true and hard to dispute otherwise. Have your tried to do a statistical count of those refused? They won’t give you those figures.

        There is another factor though slim and growing, the abuse of the system itself by those who do receive benefits.

        In fact today I know of 5 local individuals receiving gov support and they just drink and smoke it away every day. These men are still able to work if the gov had a support system to retrain them in other jobs that can be done possibly jobs that don’t require physical manual labor but if trained properly use other abilities.

        Of course I can take the easy way out and say, “let’s just say we agree to
        disagree” or today’s popular lame excuse “it’s a matter of interpretation.” I prefer the original myself, call me old
        fashioned. In any case, I still stand by me earlier statements as the words, “should” and be changed to “will”
        is more effective if Japan is really serious about their intentions that both
        foreigners and locals are treated equally.

        “I should go to the store.” “You will go to the store.” Big difference
        when it comes to interpreting a law.

        Surely you have heard, shoulda, coulda, woulda?
        Thanks again for posting, and as I said, just because we may have different views doesn’t mean we can’t have pleasant conversations. A word from experience sometimes in politics in order to see both sides one has to be cynical, with all the corruption that goes on in government, well I think you get the idea.

  • everythinggoes

    So let me get this straight, even though Foreigners payed taxes through the standard taxes when they pay for services etc, they are still punished because they are not “Japanese”?

    Why should Foreigners pay for Japanese bad debt?

    We Foreigners don’t even have a full way to become Japanese without an approved Visa in the first place.

    So unless there is a Full Visa that we can apply for, forcing us to become Japanese is useless.

    When Japanese allow Foreigners to stay in Japan defiantly without requiring some sort of special visa, then you can talk about “naturalized”, otherwise, don’t enforce crap down other people’s throats.

    Yes I know it’s about Welfare.

  • I would like to know how much income tax we foreigners pay each year. Would it be cool with Ishihara and his cronies if we were also excluded from having to pay it? Would seem fair to me, but then again TIJ – This Is Japan :)

    • Earl Kinmonth

      If by “we foreigners” you mean the Anglophones who read the JT, probably very little. The bulk of the foreigners in Japan are Chinese, Koreans, Filipino, etc. There are more Vietnamese and Nepalese in Japan than there are either North Americans or Europeans. To answer your question, one would need tax data by nationality, but it is almost certain that Chinese from the PRC and ROC would predominate.

      • I was referring to all foreigners.

      • Gordon Graham

        And let’s not forget that Anglophones make a lot of money teaching English on the side that they don’t pay taxes on.

  • Ahojanen

    In facing Japan’s declining and aging population, not makeshift but comprehensive reforms on the social welfare system are inevitable. It’s also urgent.

    Unlike the common sense knowledge I don’t think there are so many free-riders on social benefits, either Japanese nationals or foreigners . In latter case, many international residents and taxpayers suffer no/limited access or entitlement to local social welfare services due mostly to their lack of Japanese citizenship. Such people “on the borderline” should be integrated into mainstream Japanese society. A solution may be to relax some requirements for citizenship application. A dual citizenship might also be granted to qualified people upon certain conditions.

  • keith emerson

    My wife is a prime example of the angry sentiment coming from this movement. She is a foreign born resident (Thailand) of Japan living in the United States collecting Japan public assistance.

  • bobby

    this is just another attempt to get rid of foreigners in Japan. Call it for what it is, the old shadow bosses don’t want foreigners in Japan period.

  • Toolonggone

    It’s just absurd to see how people like Ishihara and Japan Institute for National
    Fundamentalists echo the anti-foreigner sentiment through this kind of
    propaganda. It’s baloney. Foreign households represent less than 3% of those
    who register for public assistance–or “seikatsuhogo.” An overwhelming majority of applicants are Japanese, most of them are elderly family, those living single, or live hand to mouth under a shoestring income.

    Right-wing politicians and nationalist activists obviously want these ‘poor’ foreigners to remain as a permanent social burden in Japan so that they can get millions of votes from innocent, naïve voters.

    • Crusader00

      Go back to North Korea bolshevik scum.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    Precisely how many foreign nationals in Japan have been denied welfare? Not the woman who brought the suit. She was intially denied but received it on appeal.

    • Charles

      In my opinion, the real danger is not the direct effects of the ruling itself. Most foreigners in Japan (myself included) do not even want to collect welfare. The real danger is the precedent it sets.

      “You’re a foreigner, so even if you pay taxes, you’re not entitled to welfare.”

      This creates a precedent of “You’re a foreigner, so even if you pay ____, you’re not entitled to ____.”

      You can fill in the blanks with “National Health Insurance,” “Pension,” etc.

      How would you like it if the Japanese government used this same logic to deny you National Health Insurance benefits after you were diagnosed with cancer?

      How would you like to work in Japan for 25 years, pay ~4.5 million yen into the Pension system, turn 65 years old, and be denied a single payment?

      It’s the precedent and the possibility of a slippery slope that is so worrisome.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        The welfare that was object of this litigation is the one and only social service that has a citizenship clause. I paid into the public pension scheme for only two years but started receiving payments at age 60 after living in Japan for only 9 years. It is not obvious to me why anyone would live in a country 25 years without taking citizenship. Getting Japanese citizenship is not particularly difficult. There’s quite a bit of paperwork, but I found both local and national government staff helpful at every stage of the process. I should have gone for it some years ago as soon as I qualified rather than waiting as I did. For most purposes you can continue using your original name. You can even stand for election under your original name if you are so inclined although you might have to render it in katakana. As for the slippery slope argument, I would note that the law in question has been on the books since the 1950s. If the government wanted to use it to screw foreign nationals in a big way, they’ve had more than a half century to do it.

      • Charles

        “It is not obvious to me why anyone would live in a country for 25 years without taking citizenship.”

        If I were to live in Japan for 25 years, I would probably naturalize, too.

        However, I think there are many valid reasons not to naturalize and throw away your previous citizenship (which is mandatory, although some people secretly keep their former citizenship in violation of the law and are able to fly under the radar):

        1. Loss of international mobility (good luck on ever teaching English in Taiwan, Korea, etc. ever again–they require passports from English-speaking countries)

        2. Loss of the ability to return to one’s former country (for example, to take care of elderly parents)

        3. Loss of the ability to return to one’s former country to work in a much bigger job market (to have access to a job market where options are more numerous than just English teaching or a few odd gaijin jobs)

        4. Anxiety about whether one’s rights will really be protected in Japan, despite having Japanese citizenship (lack of an anti-discrimination law, Otaru Hot Springs case, the treatment of white Japanese nationals in the Ogasawara Islands during World War II, the experiences of Japanese citizens with Korean ethnicity having their citizenship stripped in 1952, and plenty more examples)

        If I had been here for 25 years, I’d probably naturalize. However, I can certainly understand why people reach even 82 years of age and do not naturalize.

  • rossdorn

    I am amazed to read all this comments here….

    Has it ever occurred to yoú guys, that this is Japan? A foreign country for you and me, and that they have their culture and their rules and their idiosyncrasies?

    They are not there to be as you would like them to be… You do not like it, and I agree that there are plenty of reasons for that, then pack your suitcases.

    • Charles

      I am amazed to read your comments here…

      Has it ever occurred to you that not just citizens of a country, but also foreigners, are allowed to have opinions? That freedom of thought and speech are basic human rights?

      They (people’s opinions) are not there to be as you would like them to be… You do not like it, and I agree that there are plenty of reasons for that, then don’t read Disqus, in fact, don’t bother communicating with other human beings.

      • rossdorn

        What an amazing answer….. where do people like you (you are not the only one who does that) read that I say you are not allowed to have opinions?
        I simply wrote that I am amazed how grown up people (I suppose you are one?) have such childish ideas about the world and how it works…..

      • bobby

        ok professor you have all the textbook answers, unfortunately many don’t live in a textbook

  • Earl Kinmonth

    I wonder if I am the only one who finds the emphasis on paying taxes in the comments on this article rather puzzling. Unless Japan is very different from the US or the UK, most people on welfare have always had low incomes or no incomes and have paid little or nothing in taxes. In the UK, there are cases of three generations on welfare. While there are presumably a small number of cases in any country where people go from having high incomes and paying a substantial amount of taxes to being destitute, I would imagine such cases to be quite rare. Does anyone have evidence to the contrary?

    • Charles

      In Japan, even low-income people pay heavy taxes. The consumption tax is 8%, even on basic foodstuffs from the grocery store. Everyone pays that, even homeless people.

      Don’t have a job? The Pension system doesn’t care. You still have to pay ~180,000 yen per year for Pension tax (whether a person is jobless or a billionaire, it is a fixed fee–about 180,000 yen). Many people evade this tax, or postpone it, and many people get away with it, but that does not mean that Pension tax is optional. Paying Pension tax is the law.

      Income tax, National Health Insurance tax, and Prefecture/City tax, are progressive taxes, so poor people pay less for them, but they still have to pay SOMETHING.

      I would estimate that a poor person making 1,000,000 yen per year would probably still end up paying ~300,000 yen (i.e. 30% of his income) on taxes. My reason for saying this is:
      – He still has to pay Pension tax: 180,000 yen
      – He has to buy food and basic supplies like clothes: 8% of the remaining 820,000 yen: 65,600 yen
      Total: 245,600 yen, and I think we can round that out to 300,000 yen when National Health Insurance, personal income tax, and prefectural/city tax are factored in (cheaper, but not free)

      The reason that people in Japan (both Japanese and foreigners) feel so entitled is that they have to pay such high taxes (which continue to go up). Personally, I pay about 600,000~700,000 yen on taxes from my 3 million yen income WITHOUT factoring in 8% consumption tax.

    • OsFish

      You’re right to notice this, as being a taxpayer is not a qualification for means-tested benefits, precisely because a lot of the people who need it are not taxpayers. Looking at comments on the Japan Times, there seems to me to be a strong determination among English-speaking Japan
      Netizens of all stripes to not understand what part of the welfare
      system this ruling is about, and what the ruling actually says.

      People confuse insurance benefits which do depend on paying in (such as unemployment benefit and pensions) and which have no citizenship requirement whatsoever, with this kind of assistance benefit, which is there to plug the gaps, and which around the world has various forms of residency or citizenship requirements to limit eligibility. This benefit is there precisely because not everyone can pay in, or (for various legitimate or illegitimate reasons) does pay in.

      As a note: tales of three generations of welfare recipients are tabloid distractions in the UK – even two generations of never-worked are surprisingly very rare, according to recent Labour Force Survey studies. (You can find them if you look hard enough, but they appear to constitute 1% or less of all claimants). In Japan, the main recipients of seikatsu hogo are single (abandoned) mothers, the disabled and the elderly.

  • Crusader00

    Keep Japan Japanese. All gaijin out. As an otaku, no need to turn the Land of the Rising Sun into a fetid Turd World hell like Detroit.

    This is why I hate cultural Marxist organs like the Japan Times which act as gatekeepers for the news from Nippon.

    May Ebola-Chan pay the Japan Times staff a visit and do ecchi things with them unless they cease calls for Japanese genocide.

  • Charles

    Pardon me if this is a repost. I tried to post a comment a little while ago, but Disqus asked me to sign in again, and I think the original comment was lost.

    I am aware that many European countries are heavily taxed, in some cases more so than Japan. In discussions like these, Sweden often comes up, but I know that many European countries have high incomes taxes and high VAT taxes, often higher than Japan’s.

    In my opinion, this is not necessarily bad. Of course it depends on your school of thought (whether you are a capitalist or a socialist), but in my personal opinion, high taxes are not so bad provided that government services are comparable to the taxes being paid.

    Japan’s case differs from Europe’s case in two important ways:

    1. Japan continues to tax unemployed people with the ~180,000 yen Pension tax. In my home country, pension tax is a percentage of income, so unemployed people are exempt from paying it, because their income is nothing. In Japan, someone who is unemployed for ten years will owe the government ~1.8 million yen Pension tax. This seems very harsh to me.

    2. Most European countries are not as stingy to foreigners as Japan has been since earlier this year, after the Supreme Court ruling. Whether Japan was stingy between 1954 to 2014 is arguable, but after the Supreme Court ruling this year, Japan is definitely stingier than most other OECD countries.

    But, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that Europe is just as highly taxed, just as uncompassionate and lacking in empathy towards the poor, and just as stingy towards foreigners as Japan. Do two wrongs make a right? Just because something bad happens in Europe, does that make it okay for Japan to do the same thing?

    Europe had the Inquisition, the Spanish, English, etc. wiped out literally millions of natives with their European diseases and superior weaponry, and oh, yeah, Nazism and the Holocaust. “Europe does it, too” is not a very good excuse.

    • Earl Kinmonth

      “Most European countries are not as stingy to foreigners as Japan has
      been since earlier this year, after the Supreme Court ruling. Whether
      Japan was stingy between 1954 to 2014 is arguable, but after the Supreme
      Court ruling this year, Japan is definitely stingier than most other
      OECD countries.” What is your evidence for this? Have any foreign nationals actually been denied welfare benefits on the basis of the Supreme Court ruling?

      • Charles

        I do not have the time to go and research the individual laws and legal entitlements of 50 different European countries and 34 different OECD states. Even if I did, you’d probably find two or three that were just as stingy as Japan (like maybe South Korea) and try to pick apart my argument that way. However, given that the Japanese Supreme Court ruling was “no foreigner, not even a Special Permanent Resident, is entitled to welfare,” I don’t see how any other country could have a law stingier than that. That’s as stingy as it gets.

        Honestly, I don’t need to research the laws of 50 different European countries and 34 different OECD countries to know that Japan’s law is not the norm. If Japan legalized murder, would I need to conduct research on every single OECD/European country to know that that was not the norm? No, of course not. It’s just common sense.

        Besides, you are ignoring my last point in the previous message. Even if every European or every OECD country has laws just as stingy as Japan’s, does that make it right?

        This is a simple issue of ethics. People who are taxed for something for decades on end should not be denied the service that their taxes helped pay for unless there is a good (non-arbitrary) reason for doing so, which in this case, there is not.

        I realize that many foreigners continue to collect welfare thanks to a bureaucratic memo. However, this is not the same thing as a legal entitlement for two reasons:

        1. If denied the welfare, they cannot appeal the decision. In other words, they are at the whim of their local bureaucrat. What if their local bureaucrat had a bad bentou box today? What if their local bureaucrat just doesn’t like them for some reason? Too bad! No appeals! Seems like a shoddy way to treat someone who may have been paying into the system for an entire lifetime, like the 82-year-old woman in the Supreme Court case.

        2. The memo that advises that (Special) Permanent Residents should be granted welfare if they apply can easily be rescinded by another bureaucratic memo. Only one high-level bureaucrat needs to write this memo. It does not need to go through a vote in parliament. What if the next guy to take that office is a gaijin-hating jerk?

        “I’ll let you use my car as long as I feel like it” and “I’ll give you the car and you can legally register it in your own name” have two very different meanings, even though their short-term effect is the same. One of them depends on a whim that can change at any time. The other is solidly legally-entrenched and not easily changed. This issue is the same thing–Japan is only giving foreigners welfare based on a whim, not based on a right or entitlement.

      • Earl Kinmonth

        Welfare is always discretionary whether you are a citizen or not. Foreign nationals can appeal. The woman in question did. She got her payments on appeal. Further, given that the Supreme Court specifically said that the current system could continue, it in effect ruled on the validity of the memo and said that it was acceptable. That should make it very hard to rescind. Moreover, policy decisions of this type are not made by single bureaucrats having an off day. That’s not the way bureaucracies work in general and certainly not the way the Japanese national bureaucracy functions. Your claim that welfare rights for foreign nationals is “just common sense” and you do not need to research the issue is contradicted by the JT article in question. It specifically states that policies differ and that the US in particular is quite restrictive. Policies on all sorts of things vary widely among OECD countries. In the US, policies on all sorts of things vary widely among the states. For example, when I lived in Wisconsin, it was widely believed that Wisconsin attracted welfare spongers because it was easier to get certified for welfare in Wisconsin than it was in neighboring states. Britain is a magnet for illigal immigrants because they believe they stand a better change in the UK than in France. Japan may be an outlier in terms of this issue, but that has to be demonstrated, not asserted.

  • Charles

    First of all, I respect your debate style, and admit that perhaps I was comparing the wrong numbers (it is ambiguous in this article what the 122 billion yen referred to–they just called it “welfare,” so I just searched for “welfare” when finding my total welfare number for all of Japan, but you have pointed out that they were referring to only one type of welfare, or seikatsu hogo, so I stand corrected, maybe). Rather than name-calling or “Don’t like it, leave.” or “They do it in foreign countries, too.” cliches, you used numbers and logic. Thank you.

    Overall, I agree with what you said, and agree with you that perhaps I was underestimating that total piece of the seikatsu hogo pie from which foreigners were taking. I was thinking the total pie was 103.487 trillion yen when actually it is much smaller than that.

    However, I will point out one small flaw in your post. You wrote 3.4 trillion yen. However, the article that you linked to states 3.8 trillion yen (“今年度の生活保護費は、長引いた景気の低迷で受給者が増えるなどしたため、国と地方を合わせておよそ3兆8000億円となり、リーマンショックが起きた6年前の1.4倍に上っています。”–“As for the outlay of this year’s seikatsu hogo, because of the recipients of it increasing, etc. in the economic slump, which has been dragging on, combining the country and the regions [of Japan], it is about 3.8 trillion yen, and it has increased 1.4 times versus six years ago when the Lehman Shock arose.”).

    However, you are still right that, presuming that the LDP was talking about seikatsu hogo (I’m still not sure they were), and presuming that the LDP number is correct, that foreigners are taking about 3% from the pie even though they are only 2% of the population. Okay, well, that is a problem that needs to be addressed, but there are much less severe ways of addressing it than simply stating “no foreigner, even a permanent resident, has any entitlement to welfare,” which is what the Supreme Court did this year.

    If I ruled the country, this is what I would do:

    – Permanent residents (永住者 and 特別永住者) can continue to receive welfare. They have, in most cases, lived in Japan just as long, paid into the tax system just as long, etc. as most Japanese, so they should be just as entitled.

    – However, I would limit Long-Term Residents’ (定住者) entitlement to welfare, for the simple reason that many so-called “Long-Term Residents” have not actually been here for a long time. Because unlike permanent residency, which is EARNED either by being born here or living here for a long time, Long-Term Resident status is often GIVEN OUT to people fresh off the boat, usually from Brazil, Peru, or elsewhere in South America. Some of these people may have lived in Japan for less than a year, yet may have a “Long-Term Resident” Status of Residence, which is quite frankly unfair to other foreigners who have lived here for years and are still on one-year extensions. Why should so-called “Long-Term Residents” be given everything on a silver platter without putting in the requisite number of years here, first? If they want to live in Japan for 10, 20, 30 years, etc. and then claim welfare, then fine, but by that point, they probably won’t be so-called “Long-Term Residents,” anymore, they’ll be “Permanent Residents.” I would have absolutely no problem with welfare being limited only to foreigners who have worked in Japan for 10+ years. However, that position is less extreme than the Supreme Court ruling or the Jisedai no Tou’s radical far-right ideas.

    – Once (most of the) so-called “long-term residents” (many of which have not actually lived here for a long time) have been weeded out from receiving welfare, and only the permanent residents are receiving it, I think Japan will find that foreigners are receiving less welfare per capita than Japanese, at which point the LDP and Jisedai no Tou should stop complaining. However, if this turns out not to be the case, than perhaps it is time to investigate why permanent residents are taking it. Is it because they were not allowed to pay into the National Pension system until the 80s, and therefore have not accrued enough National Pension payments, and cannot collect a National Pension when they get old? Is it because of discrimination? Don’t just blame the foreigners–address the root causes of the problem. Perhaps the reason foreigners are taking out a (possibly) disproportionately high amount of welfare (according to the LDP) is because that is the corner into which they have been driven.

    • OsFish

      Ah – sorry for my mistake. I glanced at the page and two numbers flew into one… Thank you for pointing it out.

      I understand your reasoning in wanting to limit any phenomenon of people turning up off the boat and immediately living off the taxes of others. However, I’m not sure how much limiting welfare to PRs and SPRs would change the figures, nor am I certain it’s a good idea.

      First of all, “Foreigners” in this system include the SPRs who were born and raised here, and who constitute the largest proportion of the foreign population. As far as I can see by slightly old figures, the largest number of foreign recipients by far are classed as South/North Korean, followed by Chinese. (By the by, I can’t see a good moral or ethical reason why SPRs are not treated the same as Japanese citizens in terms of social support.)

      Secondly, most foreign incomers are those who come here to work, or on a spouse visa. To get their visas renewed they need to demonstrate financial stability. That they then lose their financial support is likely not to be of their own choosing. Claiming seikatsu hogo is a degrading and instrusive alternative to work, given that your family and other personal relationships are investigated to see if they can offer alternative support. I am sure there are some people scamming the system, but the question for me is whether changing eligibility rules to tackle what is likely a small minority of claimants, and thereby depriving a much larger group of legitimate claimants, isn’t counterproductive – a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

      To be honest, I’d really like to see evidence of a problem of welfare dependency among the South American nikkei population before saying that there is a problem that needs tackling. I think there is some vapid populism going on, sprinkled with a heavy dash of korean-bashing by the far right.