The Justice Ministry said Wednesday it plans to soon decentralize much of its refugee application process, aiming to fast-track rejections amid concerns of a rise in illegitimate requests.
Under the current system, local immigration bureaus tentatively categorize applicants into four categories: Group A, meaning they are likely to be given refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention; Group B, or those who cite reasons that are clearly not applicable under the convention; Group C, or those who reapply citing the same reasons that were earlier rejected; and Group D, others.
The planned revisions would allow local immigration chiefs to determine whether to grant or deny refugee status to applicants in groups B and C, which accounted for about 40 percent of all requests filed last year, ministry officials said.
Currently the justice minister alone has the power to determine whether an applicant is granted refugee status.
In recent years, Japan has seen a rapid increase in the number of requests for refugee status, rising to 7,586 in 2015 from 1,202 in 2010. By nationality, Nepal topped the list in 2015 at 1,768 applications, followed by Indonesia at 969, Turkey at 926, Myanmar at 808 and Vietnam at 574.
The ministry believes many of the requests are not genuine and made by people wishing to work in Japan for better pay than they get in their homeland.
Following a rule revision in 2010, an applicant is allowed to start working in Japan six months after submitting a request for refugee status.
Many foreign nationals probably have started applying to take advantage of this rule, a senior ministry official claimed in a media briefing.
On average, it took more than 10 months for the ministry to determine the fate of an applicant last year.
Meanwhile, Japan accepted only 27 refugees in 2015, far fewer than other developed countries, while another 79 individuals were given temporary permission to reside in Japan out of “humanitarian consideration.”
The country’s strict immigration policy has drawn criticism from human rights activists domestically and abroad.
Based on the Refugee Convention, Japan only accepts refugees who fear persecution for political reasons if they return home. No economic refugees are accepted.
The ministry said that on Wednesday it will begin accepting public comments on the planned reform before finalizing any changes.
The ministry also plans to start using a new application form for those who have applied multiple times.
It will ask the applicant to specifically describe new reasons for trying again that were not reported before, such as recent changes in the political situation in their home country. The question is designed to prevent repeated applications for no appropriate reason, the ministry said.