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Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010
New visa rule on insurance to be deleted
Aim is to ease foreigners' concerns
The Immigration Bureau is planning to change a new guideline for foreign residents to ease concerns that those without social insurance will be forced to choose between losing their visa and entering the insurance system, a bureau official said Monday.
But some foreigners warn the move won't be enough to entirely free them of the risk of being forced to enter the insurance system.
The wording of the guideline, which is to be enforced April 1, currently stipulates that foreign residents must present their health insurance card when reporting changes to or renewing their residential status. It is the last of the guideline's eight items.
"The bureau will delete item No. 8 by the end of March, and 'lightly mention' the need to present a health insurance card in the introductory passage of the guideline," Immigration Bureau spokesman Yoshikazu Iimura told The Japan Times. "The wording will be in a manner to eliminate foreign residents' concerns that their visas won't be renewed if they don't have insurance."
The bureau will try to persuade foreigners who don't have the card to enter the social insurance system by giving out brochures, but not having the insurance won't affect the bureau's decision whether to grant a visa, he said.
Ronald Kessler, who founded the Free Choice Foundation to raise awareness of the issue, hailed the bureau's plan to delete item No. 8.
"We peacefully and diplomatically explained to them our predicament," he said. "They listened, they understood, and we applaud them for taking appropriate action."
His battle, however, isn't over. Kessler wants local immigration offices not to ask foreigners to show the card and only hand out the brochure. Also, he wants to make sure the Immigration Bureau's intention is clearly delivered to immigration officers at local offices.
"Government documents are vaguely written," he said. "Immigration officers can interpret them however they want."
Foreigners and their supporters have protested the new guideline as an infringement on freedom of choice.
Foreign and Japanese residents are required to sign up for Japan's social insurance system, as stipulated in the Health Insurance Act and the National Pension Act, but there is no punishment for not doing so. Some foreigners choose not to enter the insurance system out of preference for the insurance provided by foreign companies or simply because they don't want to pay insurance premiums.
Also, some clinics that employ English-speaking doctors do not take Japanese insurance. They charge patients the full amount and give them a receipt so they can claim the medical expense later with their insurance company.