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Friday, Oct. 26, 2012

No takers for free legal consultants at Haneda

Staff writer

A free legal consultation service for foreigners arriving at Tokyo's Haneda airport has had no clients since its launch in September, according to one of the lawyers in charge of the program.

The pro bono Haneda Airport Duty Attorney System, intended for overseas visitors who encounter immigration troubles at the airport, was introduced on a trial basis Sept. 3 by the Tokyo Bar Association, Daiichi Tokyo Bar Association and Daini Tokyo Bar Association. The service is scheduled to end Nov. 30.

"So far, there haven't been any requests from foreign nationals seeking our help," lawyer Sosuke Seki told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

While it is difficult to pin down why those in trouble haven't contacted his team, Seki expressed hope that the service may have influenced immigration officers to take extra time in properly checking foreign arrivals.

The service provides on-site legal consultations between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, with approximately 50 lawyers taking turns to man the desks. Translations are available in multiple languages, including English, Chinese and Korean.

Although the number of foreigners arriving in Japan dropped sharply last year following the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear crisis, the country still saw more than 6.21 million overseas visitors, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, nearly double the 1990 level.

The new legal service was intended to support foreigners who face deportation at Haneda airport due to a lack of knowledge of Japan's immigration system or legal process.

According to the Justice Ministry, 2,992 foreign travelers were prohibited from entering Japanin 2011. South Koreans accounted for 36.2 percent, or 1,082, of the total, followed by 412 Chinese, 214 Taiwanese and 201 Turkish nationals.

The ministry also said 60 percent of those deported were not allowed entry because their stated reason for visit was deemed "doubtful," including suspicions they intended to work without a proper visa. Other reasons included a lack of the appropriate entry visa and a prior history of deportation.

Of the 2,992 foreigners whose entry was blocked last year, 379 were handed a deportation decision at Haneda airport.

The process of requesting entry to Japan by foreigners denied permission by immigration at the nation's airports remains complicated. Those denied entry by immigration are assigned to a special inquiry officer in charge of holding a secondary hearing.

If the officer upholds the decision not to permit entry, a foreign national is given a chance to file an objection with the justice minister, who makes the final call.

Haneda's trial attorney service is aimed at aiding foreigners who are made to go through the complicated process. Pundits say that of those who arrive without a proper visa, some are fleeing their country in fear of their life and in hopes Japan will take them in, while others simply fail to properly explain the purpose of their visit and raise suspicions among immigration officers.

"There are cases in which I think a legal consultation from us would have helped a foreigner from being deported," Seki said.

He added that his team has posted leaflets at Haneda's immigration rooms, and has also requested the support of airlines in promoting the service.

The trial period of the free consultations will likely cease at the end of November as slated, Seki said, but he added the lawyers could still decide to provide the service on a permanent basis after studying the three-month period more closely.

The toll-free number for the Haneda Airport Duty Attorney System is (0120) 477-472.

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The Japan Times

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