National

Xenophobic wave of tips target 'illegal' Korean residents; immigration bureaus overwhelmed

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

An Internet rumor that hundreds of thousands of ethnic Korean residents are to be deported has seen immigration bureaus nationwide deluged with “tips” from bounty seekers and others about neighbors who in fact remain legal residents.

It has so overwhelmed local offices that the Justice Ministry has spoken out to deny claims that Zainichi ethnic Koreans with “special permanent resident” status are now subject to deportation. The group comprise mostly ethnic Koreans and their descendants.

It is unclear whether the rumor arose by mistake or was maliciously devised by racists and right-wingers, but it appears to have tapped a national thread of xenophobia, given the volume of callers trying to turn their neighbors in.

The rumor says ethnic Koreans forfeited their residency status after July 8. Although Zainichi identity papers are in fact being upgraded to a new system, that date was only a deadline for foreign citizens to swap certificates of alien registration for a new identification card.

Within days, immigration bureaus witnessed a surge in calls, letters and emails from members of the public informing against special permanent residents, according to Justice Ministry official Masashi Shimazu.

“The reports came unexpectedly and the situation needs to be corrected,” Shimazu said.

Typical messages inciting tipoffs could easily be found on the Internet on Tuesday. Tweets and comments on discussion forums said that denouncing one Korean residing in the country illegally would lead to a bounty of ¥50,000. These postings pointed readers to a website operated by the ministry soliciting tips on the whereabouts of illegal immigrants.

Shimazu acknowledged that the ministry site received some emails seeking to inform on people in the country legally, but declined to divulge the number.

The ministry moved fast to try to counter the misunderstanding. Last Thursday it posted a notice on its website assuring ethnic Koreans and other special permanent residents that failure to obtain the new ID by the July 8 deadline “would not lead to deprivation of their status as a special permanent resident.”

The ministry also plans to define in clearer terms who it refers to as “illegal immigrants,” Shimazu said, adding that the chief target is people who overstay their visa.

Under the newly introduced ID exchange system, visa holders with special permanent residency are required to swap their old alien card for the new card. But unlike other non-Japanese residents, who should have swapped their ID cards by July 8, the deadline imposed on these residents varies depending on the holder’s birthday.

Failing to complete the switch by the deadline could technically result in criminal penalties, including a year in prison and a maximum fine of ¥200,000, but instant deportation is impossible, said Justice Ministry official Masahiro Yamagata.

The ministry also emphasizes that criminal penalties are handed down on delinquents by law enforcement only on a case-by-case basis and that those who have not acquired the new card yet should head to an immigration center to apply.