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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

LIFELINES

Taking issue with a visa 'investigation'


"Dear Lifelines; I am a Hong Kong citizen with a British passport. I married a Japanese national in 1992 in Hong Kong. Three years ago, my husband was transferred back to Tokyo and so I came to Japan on a spouse visa, which is valid for three years.

Eighteen months ago, our second son was born. I had become so busy that I completely forgot that my visa was to expire in December 2002. I realized only in January and immediately tried to renew the spouse visa.

However, we were not allowed to renew it at the Immigration Office in Otemachi and were asked to report our case to another office for illegal overstay.

My husband prepared all the documents they required and we spent a few hours waiting to meet the immigration official. During the meeting with the official on Jan. 21, I was not questioned about the delay in renewing the visa, but was just asked to fill out a form to explain why I must stay in Japan.

Then, without any explanation. they took my 10 fingerprints and my photo in a room by computer where there was a group of illegal immigrants sitting handcuffed. I was treated like a criminal who had committed a serious crime.

When we asked about the time needed to handle our file, the answer was very indefinite. It might take a few months or even more than a year. Furthermore, we were told that if I leave Japan before they finish the investigation, I would not be able to enter Japan for five years.

More than one month has now passed, but we have heard nothing from the Immigration Department.

My questions are these: Why does it take at least a few months to investigate this kind of case of visa expiry (this case being forgetfulness)? And why isn't this kind of case separated from more complicated cases?

Also, why didn't they question me directly during the meeting instead of "investigating" by themselves, thereby wasting valuable time and resources?

Since I am now staying in Japan without any legal status, if I have a serious illness, can I claim insurance?

Also, is it a violation of human rights to take all my fingerprints and photo without any explanation, even before my case is handled, and in a room full of illegal immigrants?" -- H.K.

Dear H.K.; There are very few hard and fast answers to your questions. Recently the law was made very strict for overstaying, since so many were doing so. Previously it was not a crime but now it is. Amazingly, as cruel as it sounds, you have been treated well in that you were not charged.

The time to "investigate" is simply procedural and it appears that your explanation that you simply forgot to renew your visa has been accepted. You could very easily have been charged with a crime, deported and not allowed to return.

The law is the law, and even if you simply forgot to renew, you still broke it.

You will be glad to know that there should be no problem regarding your insurance coverage, particularly if it is Japanese government insurance. You are not here "illegally." Your visa is being "processed."

Taking your fingerprints and picture is, unfortunately, these days quite routine.

It is easy to say that Japan's Immigration Office is "evil," but we at The Japan Helpline work with not only the Japanese Immigration Office, but with many others and, in spite of its many problems, Japanese immigration is one of the better ones. Having said that, if you have had any bad experiences with the Immigration Office, please let Lifelines know straight away. We will happily stand corrected.

CORRECTION: In last week's column, we mistakenly provided an old number for the HIV/AIDS Hotline. The correct number is (03) 5259-0256, and its English-service operating hours are from 12-3 p.m. on Saturdays.



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