The new immigration control system started July 9. The alien registration system, which covered both legal and illegal foreign residents and helped provide various administrative services even to the latter group was abolished.

Under the new system, alien registration cards issued by municipalities will be abolished and, instead, zairyu (residence) cards will be issued by the immigration authorities only to legal foreign residents and they will be incorporated into the resident registration system on a par with Japanese nationals.

This means that illegal foreign residents will have no publicly issued ID cards and will be excluded from resident registers. Such foreigners will face difficulty in finding jobs and receiving administrative services. One purpose of the new system is to reduce the number of foreigners illegally residing in Japan. As of January 2011, nearly 80,000 foreigners had overstayed their visas — a decrease of more than 70 percent from a peak of about 300,000 in May 1993, according to the Justice Ministry.

The ministry has stated that even after the introduction of the new system, such public services as education of children at elementary and middle schools, regular vaccinations and childbirth expense subsidies for pregnant women will continue to be provided to illegal foreign residents.

But whether these services are provided will be up to the local governments that actually provide these services. There is a possibility that local governments might misunderstand and cease providing such services to illegal foreign residents. The ministry should clearly inform them that this is not the case.

The basic information that makes foreigners eligible for these services is their addresses. Local governments concerned should do their utmost to learn the addresses of foreigners who are illegally residing in their communities.

According to an October 2011 survey of Tokyo’s 62 municipalities by the Tokyo Bar Association — in which 57 responded — 28 percent said that they will not provide medical and health services to illegal foreign residents. Sixty-one percent said that they have no plans to try to ferret out information on illegal foreign residents. As the bar association insists, the central government should provide concrete support to local government so that they can gather information on such foreigners.

If illegal foreign residents are law-abiding and causing no problems in their local communities, there is no need to force them to go underground and, in the worst case, commit crimes to survive. The central government should make efforts to ensure that minimum levels of education and social security services are provided to such foreign residents.

The new system is also causing problems for some legal foreign residents. In at least one case, the immigration authorities refused to allow a family to render their names in kanji on their residence cards, as had been done on their alien registration cards. This is causing them considerable difficulties in various aspects of their lives. If aspects of the new system gives rise to serious problems, the relevant laws should be revised at an early date.

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