National

Japan to begin screening departing foreign travelers with facial recognition technology

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

Thanks to the growing influx of foreign travelers, immigration procedures often keep international visitors waiting in long queues at Japan’s airports.

But short-term travelers will be able to skip long lines when they are leaving the country from this summer by using facial recognition technology that will be deployed at the nation’s major airports, immigration authorities said Tuesday.

“We hope the automatization of embarkation procedures will help ease customs procedures and will allow more immigration staff to be tasked with other duties” related to granting permission to enter Japan, an official at the Immigration Services Agency said Tuesday.

The facial recognition system for foreign visitors will be available at Haneda airport in Tokyo from July 24, before being rolled out at other major airports in Chiba, Osaka, Fukuoka, Aichi, Hokkaido and Okinawa prefectures by next July. The procedures will not require pre-registration.

Japanese nationals have been able to complete immigration entry and departure processes at unmanned gates using facial screening technology at some of Japan’s airports since fall 2017.

But foreign travelers can only use the system when they leave Japan, as non-Japanese, including residents, get fingerprinted and photographed upon entering the country as a measure to prevent terrorism and other illegal activities.

The immigration agency official also said that only travelers staying in Japan up to three months will be able to use the system. He explained it can’t be utilized by residents of Japan and those with other visa statuses, as their immigration procedures require verification of their residence status.

“Some residents need to return their residence cards when they leave,” but short-term visitors don’t have them to hand in, the official explained.

The official added that the gates will scan faces and compare the images with the photographic data encrypted on microchips in travelers’ passports.

The gates will automatically open if the computer verifies a match. The official said that the process will take just 15 seconds. Those who don’t want to leave Japan without a passport stamp can request one at customs posts before boarding procedures.

After its introduction at Haneda airport, the system will then be deployed at Narita airport on Aug. 27, at Kansai International Airport on Sept. 25, and later at Fukuoka Airport on Oct. 8, Chubu and New Chitose airports in November and at Naha Airport next July.

The number of foreign visitors to Japan reached a record high of 31.19 million in 2018, according to the Japan Tourism Agency, and the government is seeking to achieve a target of 40 million by 2020. Several million foreign visitors are expected to arrive during the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, each of which will run for around two weeks from July 24 and from Aug. 25.

Some foreign residents in Japan may consider the system unfair, but it is possible for some visitors and residents to also cut their waiting time at departures by using automated gates with fingerprint scanning technology.

These are already in use at five major airports in Japan but are only available for those who have pre-registered.

The applicants must meet certain requirements to register as a trusted traveler, including having been employed full time at a public or private organization for at least a year or having visited Japan at least twice within 12 months prior to arrival.

The program is open to travelers from 67 countries where Japanese visa exemptions apply, including the United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea and Taiwan.

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