Kobe – Police have been increasingly encountering fake residence cards in recent years as more foreigners overstay their visas due to the high demand for workers across the country.
Investigators acted on 748 cases of possession, forgery and other offenses involving residence cards in 2019 alone, according to the National Police Agency.
Crime groups have sought out foreigners through social media to sell fake residence cards workers can use to remain employed even after their visas have expired, according to the police.
Among 29 residence statuses in Japan, the most highly sought-after cards are those provided to permanent and long-term residents who are permitted to engage in any kind of work and switch jobs at will, they said.
In July, a Chinese man and a Chinese woman were arrested for allegedly counterfeiting a residence card for a Vietnamese man whose visa had expired. The couple was operating the forgery operation out of an apartment in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture.
The police said they found data related to around 1,800 forged items, including residence cards, driver's licenses and pension handbooks, in a computer confiscated from the couple.
The Chinese pair had accepted orders from Vietnamese, Indonesian and Chinese people who had overstayed, as well as interns and students, according to investigators.
"It is difficult to bring down the entire syndicate as the mastermind is believed to have directed the pair's activities from China through social media," an investigator said.
In August, two other Chinese women believed to have belonged to the same group were arrested on suspicion of possessing a fake residence card for a Vietnamese man. The police in Hyogo and Saitama prefectures Thursday referred the case to prosecutors.
The police, who earlier confiscated thousands of unused fake cards from an apartment in Ageo, also in Saitama, quoted the two as saying they started the card counterfeiting operation when the coronavirus pandemic caused their legitimate incomes to dry up.
One of the women explained the ringleader offered ¥300,000 ($2,900) every month, the police said, adding that fake residence cards were sold for around ¥5,000 apiece.
Amid an acute labor shortage due to its rapidly graying population and declining birthrate, Japan created a new visa system in April 2019 to attract more blue-collar workers from overseas, marking a major policy shift from its traditionally tight immigration intake.
The number of foreign workers in the country hit a record 1,658,804 as of October last year, according to a tally by the labor ministry.
Poor labor conditions for foreign workers have contributed to a rise in offenses involving fake residence cards, said an official from a company that helps Vietnamese people find work in Osaka.
In particular, interns working under a technical internship program, which has been criticized as being a cover for companies to import cheap labor, have sought to purchase forged residence documents because they want to be able to work in jobs other than those available through the government-sponsored program, experts said.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.