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Saturday, July 7, 2012
Foreign registration rules change Monday
The new immigration control system takes effect Monday.
In a nutshell, the authority to control foreign residents, currently divided between the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau and municipalities, will reside solely with the Immigration Bureau.
Under the new system, the Immigration Bureau will know the names of registered residents, their addresses, visa expiration dates and other personal information, and thus will know whose visa expiration is approaching.
Until now, a lot of this kind of information was spread out through different databases.
What specifically do foreign residents have to do under the new system? What requirements are imposed on them?
Here are some questions and answers on the new immigration system:
What happens to alien registration cards?
A "zairyu" (residence) card will replace the old alien registration card. The new version will bear the person's name, address, type of visa, expiration date of visa and a code number that the Immigration Bureau can use to retrieve personal information.
The card will also have an IC chip. According to the Immigration Bureau's website, "all or part of the information printed on the resident card" will be recorded on the chip "for the purpose of preventing the resident cards from being forged or altered."
When do foreign residents have to get the new card?
The current alien registration card will serve until foreign residents extend or change their visas, even after it is expired. This means a foreign resident can have an expired alien registration card with valid visa without having a residence card.
Newcomers arriving for purposes other than a temporary visit and typically staying in Japan more than three months will have to obtain one.
Permanent residents aged 16 and over who do not need a visa to stay in Japan will have to get a residence card by July 8, 2015.
Permanent residents younger than 16 will have to get one by whichever comes first: July 8, 2015, or their 16th birthday.
"Special permanent residents," who are typically of Korean or Taiwanese descent, will have to go to a local immigration office to get a special permanent resident certificate, which will replace alien registration cards, by July 8, 2015.
For those younger than 16, the deadline is either July 8, 2015 or their 16th birthday, whichever comes first.
Local immigration offices will issue residence cards and special permanent residents certificates the same day a foreign resident goes in to fill out the application forms, an immigration officer said.
What will happen to illegal residents?
Illegal residents who don't report to local immigration offices for registration will be "totally invisible" to public authorities, activists say.
One option will be to report themselves to local immigration offices to let the justice minister decide their fate — to be deported or awarded special permission to stay.
Their other choice is not to report themselves to local immigration offices and, effectively, give up whatever social benefits they are currently receiving, said Akira Hatate, director of the nongovernmental organization Japan Civil Liberties Union.
Even if illegal residents' alien registration cards are invalid, some municipalities currently arrange health insurance and other benefits for them, he said. Starting Monday, they may stop doing so, he warned.
After getting a new residence card, how are changes in address, employment and other details handled?
For an address change, foreign residents will have to go to their local municipal office within 14 days after they move.
For other changes, such as marital status and employment, they will have to go to their local immigration center within 14 days after the changes take place.
Companies with foreign employees will also have to report changes of employment status to their local immigration office.
Failure to report these changes in a timely manner could result in a fine of up to ¥200,000, the same punishment under the current system.
Before Monday, however, municipal governments were basically the only public authorities to know about delays in reporting such changes.
They have been very generous, rarely fining residents, according to activists and opponents of the change of the immigration system.
Starting Monday, delays will automatically be known by the Immigration Bureau, which may be more strict about imposing fines, they said.
What other rules apply to residence cards?
Foreign residents are supposed to have their card with them at all times. Failure to do so could result in a maximum ¥200,000 fine, the same as the current system with alien registration cards.
Is there anything good about the new system?
Five years will be the maximum duration of visa, compared with three years currently. The Immigration Bureau will continue to have discretion on what length of visa it will give to visa applicants. Also, foreign residents will not have to obtain a re-entry permit if they stay outside Japan for less than a year, while they currently need one no matter how short a time they are away from Japan.
It currently costs ¥3,000 to obtain a one-time re-entry permit and ¥6,000 for a multiple re-entry permit.
For information from the government, see www.immi-moj.go.jp/newimmiact_1/en/index.html.