The penalties for visa overstayers who do not turn themselves in will be harsher once the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law takes effect on 2 December. Fines for foreigners violating the provisions of their visas can go as high as two million yen, while for those found encouraging the employment of irregular immigrants, the corresponding penalties can reach up to three million yen. However, for those who turn themselves in and leave Japan willingly, a lighter penalty -- a one-year ban on re-entry, instead of the usual five-year ban, will be imposed. The new departure order system allows visa violators to voluntarily leave Japan, instead of being deported, and without being detained.
As a reaction to the US State Department report last June downgrading Japan’s efforts to fight human trafficking, Japan has formulated a plan to impose stricter regulations on the entry of foreign entertainers, mostly Filipinos, and to provide more protection to trafficking victims by exempting them from standard deportation procedures. The removal of a Justice Ministry provision automatically granting entertainer visas to foreigners officially certified by their home countries as musicians, singers and dancers, is also being considered. Human trafficking syndicates are believed to have used this provision to facilitate the entry of women to Japan for the sex industry. The new measures would limit the entry of Filipino entertainers to Japan from the current 80,000 to an estimated 8,000, and are expected to have a substantial impact on remittances to the Philippines.
Meanwhile, a proposed bill targeting Japanese crime syndicates involved in the trafficking of women for the sex industry will be forwarded to parliament in early 2005. The legislation seeks to revise Japan’s criminal laws to include harsh penalties for human traffickers.
Many foreigners have reportedly experienced different forms of discrimination in Japan, from being refused service because of the color of one’s skin, to being spat at and bullied because of appearance or having a foreign name. According to Song Chong Chi, director of an Osaka-based NGO, the Japanese peoples’ “heavy-handed and exclusionary attitude" prevents them from considering foreigners as partners in building a community. Although Japan had ratified the UN International Convention against all Forms of Racial Discrimination, it has not formulated domestic laws to support it.
Hiroshi Okuda, head of the Japan Business Federation condemned Tokyo for failing to specify the number of nurses and care workers the country was willing to accept from the Philippines under their recent bilateral trade agreement. According to Okuda, such omission clearly demonstrates Japan’s intent to minimize the number. Meanwhile, the Philippines welcomed the forging of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement as an opportunity to shift its manpower exports to Japan, from entertainers to professionals.
The University Teachers’ Union has conducted a survey among foreign professors earlier this year and received 330 responses, mostly from North Americans and Europeans. The study found that universities tend to hire younger, less experienced instructors for part-time or limited term contracts. This seems to imply that the employment of these foreign instructors was motivated more by the need to save on labor costs rather than to improve education. Some foreign academics claim that the practice of hiring expatriate teachers mainly on limited term or part-time employment may violate the UN Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. The survey also revealed that many foreign teachers are not covered by public welfare programs.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will be issuing a new set of guidelines for vocational schools accepting foreign students. Under the new guidelines, concerned schools will be required to supervise the attendance of their foreign students and to have full-time staff advising students against overstaying their visas. The schools will also be directed to verify the foreign students’ financial capability to study in Tokyo and to ensure that they have passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
The Nagoya Immigration Bureau discovered that two male Filipino missionaries, aged 23 and 26, who were invited by a Christian NGO to visit the country, have been violating immigration laws. The two were found to be working at a factory in Gifu Prefecture, in violation of the provisions of their visas that only allow them to conduct religious activities. Seven other Filipino missioners invited by the same NGO were found to be in similar situations. The bureau has since ordered the NGO to instruct the foreign missionaries to return home.
The Tokyo District Court has ruled to grant refugee status to a 31-year old Afghan national. The decision, in effect, repeals the deportation order on the Afghan refugee issued by the immigration department.
At least 46 people from 11 families are now facing deportation after immigration authorities rescinded the residency status granted to stepchildren or adopted children of war-displaced Japanese. Among those affected by the order is Chu Xiu Yun, 59, the stepdaughter of Satsuko Fukunaga, a war-displaced Japanese living in China who came to Japan with her family in 1998. Chu took care of Fukunaga until her death and her step-siblings now consider her their surrogate mother. However, despite the legitimacy of her claim, she had been affected by the Immigration Bureau’s crackdown on people disguising themselves as children of war-displaced Japanese returning from China.
The Japanese government had announced earlier that Taiwanese and South Korean visitors to the Expo 2005 AICHI, which would run from March to September, would be granted visa-free entry. The announcement indicated further that law-abiding tourists from Taiwan and South Korea would be granted permanent visa-exempt privileges. However, on 7 December, a high-ranking official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs disclosed that the old visa procedures for Taiwan and South Korea would resume after the event. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Michel Lu denied that the government mentioned granting visa-free privileges after the Expo 2005 AICHI. Japan currently issues a three-day visa upon arrival to Taiwanese tourists and longer visas if applied in advance.
A government task force has formulated a draft action plan on anti-terrorism. The plan includes taking photographs and fingerprints of foreign visitors upon their entry to Japan. Under the plan, airlines would be required to present their passenger manifestoes and hotels managers would be obligated to note their foreign guests’ passport number and nationality. The task force also called for a legal system to deny entry to suspected terrorists. In a related development, the government has decided to introduce by March 2006 new passports with integrated circuit chips that would contain encrypted data including the holders’ photograph. The measure is intended to prevent counterfeiting of passports and is part of the government’s initiatives against terrorism.
Sources: Misami Ito, “For visa violators, it pays to come clean," The Japan Times, 1 December 2004; Eriko Arita, “Vocational-tech schools face visa-violator action," The Japan Times, 2 December 2004; Kyodo News, “Business leader raps gov’t over Filipino nurse numbers," Japan Today, 2 December 2004; Kyodo News, “Immigration starts ‘voluntary deportation system," Japan Today, 2 December 2004; PNA, “Japan agrees to open up jobs for Filipinos," Asia Pulse, 2 December 2004; Kyodo News, “Tokyo court recognizes man as refugee," Japan Today, 3 December 2004; AFP, “Japan offers amnesty to ‘TNTs’," The Manila Times, 3 December 2004; Joy Su, “Japan set to drop visa requirement for Taiwanese tourists," Taipei Times, 4 December 2004; Kyodo News, “Japan to exempt trafficking victims from deportation," 4 December 2004; “Trafficking victims to be given better treatment," The Japan Times, 4 December 2004; “Foreign missionaries found working at factory," The Daily Yomiuri, 5 December 2004; AP, “Bill to combat human traffickers in Japan to reach parliament next year," 7 December 2004; Kyodo News, “Japan adopts trafficking action plan to limit entry by Filipinos, "Japan Economic Newswire, 7 December 2004; “Costly crackdown," The Japan Times, 7 December 2004; “Govt eyes introducing passports with IC chips," The Daily Yomiuri, 7 December 2004; Eric Johnston, “Limited-term foreign professors seen cornering workload but not benefits," The Japan Times, 8 December 2004; “Govt moves to stem human trafficking," The Daily Yomiuri, 8 December 2004; “Japan may have backed off from visa plan: report," Taipei Times, 8 December 2004; “Residential status rescinded for 46 children of war-displaced," The Daily Yomiuri, 8 December 2004; CNA, “Japan’s visa-free plan for Taiwan visitors unchanged: Mofa," 9 December 2004; Kyodo News, “ Gov’t eyes fingerprinting foreign nationals on entry," Japan Today, 9 December 2004; “State to photograph, fingerprint all foreign arrivals," The Japan Times, 9 December 2004; “Time to end discrimination against foreigners," The Daily Yomiuri, 14 December 2004