The Justice Ministry announced Tuesday a plan to introduce a new type of unmanned gate at major airports to fast-track Japanese passengers while allowing more officials to screen foreign nationals as a measure to counter terrorism and block illegal entry.
“By smoothing out the immigration entry and exit processes for Japanese people, we can have more immigration officials run investigations on foreign nationals,” said a news release distributed by the ministry on Tuesday.
With 40 million travelers from overseas expected to come into Japan in 2020, and 60 million expected in 2030, it’s easy to predict that airports will be short on immigration staff, a Justice Ministry official said.
The new gates will feature cameras that take photographs of passengers. By using facial recognition technology, they will match the photo with image data retrieved from passports. The whole process will take less than 15 seconds.
The ministry introduced similar unmanned gates that use fingerprint authentication in 2007, but less than 10 percent of passengers used them in 2016. It’s possible the gates were unpopular because they required users to register their fingerprints before their flights, the official said. The new gates will not require such advance registration.
Three units of this type are scheduled to be installed at Haneda airport in Tokyo as early as in this October, to be used by Japanese passengers on arrival.
The gates are scheduled to be introduced at three other international airports — Narita, Chubu and Kansai — by the end of 2018.
To be able to install the new gates, Article 54 of the Ordinance for Enforcement of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act must be amended to allow machines to store disembarkation records on passports, rather than the data being recorded by immigration officials manually applying a stamp.
The amended law is scheduled to be enforced from mid-October, according to the official. The ministry is accepting public comments on the amendment until Aug. 3.
For foreign nationals who come to Japan often on business, automated gates have been available at major airports since last November.
However, an applicant must meet certain requirements to register as a trusted traveler, including being employed full time at a public or private organization for a year and having visited Japan at least twice within the 12-month period prior to arrival.