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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Report urges closer watch on foreigners

Critics deride proposal to let Justice Ministry handle all data

Staff writer

Foreigners living in Japan should be allowed five-year visas but kept under the eye of a new unified Justice Ministry-run nationwide identification system, a government panel on immigration control said in its report released Wednesday.

The panel, made up of university professors and private-sector executives, said a new foreigner registration system and revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law should aim at creating "a symbiotic community" by providing a "pleasant environment for foreign residents in Japan."

While the report emphasizes that the proposed measures will enable the government to provide better services for foreign residents, critics view the new registry system as increased state control.

Key pitches in the proposal include abolishing the current alien registration cards and replacing them with IDs issued by the Justice Ministry and creating a registry system of foreign residents on a household basis — rather than an individual basis.

The report also proposes deregulation, including extending the renewal period for visas to a maximum of five years. Currently, visas must be renewed every one to three years.

Justice Ministry officials said they are in talks with the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry over the structure of a new registry system and would review the proposals by the panel and prepare relevant bills to be submitted to the regular Diet session next year.

Critics were quick to voice their concern over the proposals.

"It remains unclear how the government will respond under the proposed system to each unique case of overstayers. Unified control by the Justice Ministry could result in aggressive deportations," said Hiroo Osako, chief secretary of the nongovernmental group 119 Network for Foreigners.

The Saitama Prefecture-based activist said improving administrative support for foreigners can be achieved without revising current regulations. The proposed tighter controls, he warned, endanger privacy and basic human rights of foreign residents in Japan.

"For the government to think that strict control over foreigners will solve their issues is wrong," Osako said.

Information on foreigners in Japan is kept separately by the Justice Ministry, which controls immigration, and local governments, which issue alien registration cards.

The government panel said in its report that the dual control complicates "proper management of foreign residents" because of difficulties in obtaining information. The setup not only allows overstayers to remain in Japan but also leads to inefficiencies in providing administrative services to legitimate foreign residents, it said.

Under the proposal, long-term foreign residents, excluding special permanent residents such as Korean residents as well as diplomats, will be issued new identification cards at local immigration offices upon arriving in Japan or when they have their visas renewed.

Holders of such cards, as well as special permanent residents, will use their IDs to register with their local governments.

The new database, to be managed by the Justice Ministry, would keep tabs on cardholders' employment status and personal information, including place of residence.

By unifying the database on foreign residents in Japan, it will also become easier to "crack down on illegal residents and illegal workers," the report says.

In return, foreigners in Japan will "receive better administrative services," including simplified procedures for renewing stay permits and a possible extension of the maximum stay period, as well as easier access to health-care and educational services.

The panel also called for a review of the current system whereby long-term residents are required to have a re-entry permit when they leave Japan.

"The proposed system may provide some convenience, but it is unclear why the Justice Ministry needs to single-handedly control all the data concerning foreigners," said Naomi Hayazaki, representative of the nongovernmental group Rights of Immigrants Network in Kansai.

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The Japan Times

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