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Friday, Nov. 17, 2006

Fewer visa violators sold on leniency exits

Staff writer

The Immigration Bureau on Thursday called on foreigners who are overstaying their visas to turn themselves in because the number of visa violators who take advantage of the bureau's amnesty measures is decreasing.

The bureau revised immigration rules in December 2004, allowing overstayers who turn themselves in and promise to leave the country promptly to avoid prosecution.

According to Kifumi Oki, director of the adjudication division at the bureau, 12,227 visa violators reported to immigration bureaus in 2005.

But the number has fallen sharply this year.

"It's been almost two years since the revision, but the number of violators who turn up hasn't grown the way we had hoped," Oki said.

"Until August 2005 we had over 1,000 violators turning themselves in per month," Oki said, noting, however, that the figure seldom exceeded 1,000 this year, and only 765 turned up in September.

The bureau held a meeting Thursday for publishers of newspapers aimed at foreign readers in Japan to explain the merits of overstayers turning themselves in.

Under regular deportation procedures, those who have overstayed are detained and sent back to their home countries as quickly as possible and barred from re-entering Japan for at least five years.

The amnesty protects overstayers from prison and grants permission to enter Japan one year after leaving. The relaxed rules apply only to those with no criminal record and who have never been deported.

The 2004 revision also doubled the maximum fine for those who overstay to 3 million yen, an added incentive for violators to come clean.

The bureau said the number of visa overstayers peaked in 1993 at about 300,000.

Although the new deportation system may have contributed to reducing the number of overstayers to 193,000 as of last January, a bigger push will be needed to reach the government's target of cutting the number of visa overstayers to around 110,000 by 2009.

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The Japan Times

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