Opening the ‘Black Box’ of Japan’s immigration system

Fascinating and disturbing read:
Japan’s immigration agency has been accused of operating in an untransparent manner, largely because there is no way for the public to find out what is happening inside its detention facilities. Authorities have pledged to improve the situation, but some people believe greater public involvement will be needed before meaningful change can take place. Among them is an American documentary filmmaker and a former Japanese immigration officer.

A memorial service for a Sri Lankan woman, Wishma Sandamari, was held at a temple in Aichi Prefecture on March 6. It was attended by her younger sister, Purnima, and other supporters. The day marked the first anniversary of Wishma’s death at an immigration detention facility. During the six months the 33-year-old was detained, she repeatedly complained of ill health, but did not receive the care she asked for. The Justice Ministry admits that in Wishma’s case, the facility’s medical system was insufficient. But her death has not been the only tragedy to occur within the walls of Japan’s detention centers in recent years. Since 2007, there have been 17 deaths, including suicides.

Mano Akemi, a volunteer who makes regular visits to detainees, met with Wishma and became friends. She was devastated by her death and is advocating for greater transparency in detention centers. “The biggest problem is the immigration system in ,” she says. “It really is a black box. I think speaking up has been essential, and I am trying to make more people aware of this problem.”

In response to the criticism surrounding Wishma’s death, Japan’s immigration agency has announced 12 improvement measures, including raising awareness among staff members, strengthening the facilities’ medical responses, and setting clear guidelines for granting provisional release to detainees who are suffering ill health.

But the agency is also calling for controversial changes to Japan’s immigration law. It says the current legislation creates a situation where there are more people in detention than there otherwise would be. The reason, they say, is that it allows people with no legitimate asylum claim to repeatedly apply for it to avoid deportation. Under international law, asylum seekers cannot be deported.

Thomas Ash, an American filmmaker living in , recently made a documentary named “Ushiku” that urges people in to face the reality of how their country’s immigration system works. He says he “started filming with the strong belief that it is imperative to leave evidence so that if an incident occurs there will be no denying it in the future.”

In October 2019, Ash began visiting an immigration detention center in Ushiku City, Ibaraki Prefecture — one of the largest facilities of its type in — and met with detainees on a volunteer basis. At the time, around 265 detainees were being held there. There are 17 such facilities in the country with a total capacity of nearly 3,400 detainees.

In the winter of that year, Ash began secretly filming his interviews with detainees using a small camera, despite that recording is strictly prohibited. Visitors are allowed to meet with detainees, but only with the understanding that journalistic research is barred. The documentary was shot over the course of about a year.

In one scene captured in the Ushiku facility’s visiting room, an asylum seeker tells Ash he is refusing to comply with his deportation order because he fears persecution if he returns to his home country.

Another scene shows a young detainee who has gone on a hunger strike.

The detainee was one of several at the center who went on a hunger strike around the time that Ash began filming his documentary. The protest spread from spring 2019 to other facilities across the country, with a total of 235 detainees involved between June 2019 and January 2020. In June 2019 one Nigerian detainee died while on hunger strike at a Nagasaki Prefecture facility.

The film also contains footage that was submitted as evidence in a lawsuit filed by a former detainee who spent a total of five years in detention and was diagnosed with depression. Immigration officials explained that he became violent while asking for tranquilizers so they forcibly restrained him. They say the practice, known as “seiatsu” or suppression, is in accordance with facility regulations.

But Ash says, “Why did they go that far? It’s a detention center, not a prison, right? They should not be considered as criminals. Even if they are illegal residents, they have human rights.”

There has been criticism about Ash’s decision to film in secret among support groups and some lawyers providing aid to detainees. The documentary is controversial not only because it was made covertly, breaking the agency’s rules, but also because of the possible repercussions for the detainees it features.

The Immigration Agency told NHK it “considers filming while knowing that recording is prohibited inside the facilities to be an unforgivable act, no matter how much it is based on personal conviction.”

The director explains, “I myself believe that rules or laws should be respected, but by respecting laws or rules, someone can also become a perpetrator.” He says he felt compelled to make the film: “This person in front of me may die. He will probably die. I had to document that reality.”

Ash says it’s essential that people know what is really going on inside Japan’s detention centers. “I think there are some people who are trying to sweep immigration and refugee issues under the carpet,” he says, “as if we don’t have to think about them because they are problems of distant countries or only of non-Japanese.

“They are people suffering here. This is something that is actually happening. I want to ask. It’s happening in your country. Are you okay with that?”

The film has caught many viewers by surprise. One woman in her twenties says she was shocked by how little she knew about the issue. Another man said he felt ashamed that he didn’t know about the reality of what is happening in and that Japanese people need to make this their problem.

Others have also been speaking out. Kinoshita Yoichi is a former immigration officer who leads a research group that advocates for immigration reform from the outside.

“I think the Immigration Services Agency has now realized that the days of handing out punishments without regard to the public interest or concern have passed,” Kinoshita says. “The public can play a very important role in monitoring what the agency is doing so it’s very important that people take an interest in the issue.”

People in are starting to make their voices heard on refugee causes. Local charity events and donation boxes are opening to help people displaced by the Ukrainian crisis. But is the government truly considering changes to its immigration policies?

The justice minister, Furukawa Yoshihisa, announced in April that he wants to create a new policy called ‘subsidiary protection’ to support people, including Ukrainians, who are escaping war in their homelands but do not meet the requirements to be recognized as refugees in .

But he also indicated the ministry would continue to support government policies proposed last year that would strengthen the agency’s power to deport people, including asylum seekers, as a way to deal with long-term detention. The government had withdrawn the proposal amid strong public opposition in the wake of Wishma’s death.

“At present, ‘fleeing conflict’ is not a sufficient reason to be recognized as a refugee in , which has one of the strictest screening processes in the world,” says Takahashi Wataru, a human rights lawyer and researcher on immigration laws for the Federation of Bar Association. “Less than 1 percent of applicants are granted refugee status. The government appears to be using what looks like a positive move as a cover to pass its former plan, which aims to strengthen its deportation policy and continues to evade discussing the core of the issue. The government needs to reform its strict screening process to recognize the refugee status of people fleeing war, including Ukrainians, and end long-term detention of asylum seekers.”

The UNHCR has said that measures for subsidiary protection should not replace or undermine the refugee protection system of asylum seekers.

The opposition parties proposed their own plan in early May. It recommends setting up an independent expert committee to examine refugee applications, make a court order necessary for detention, and limit detention-period extensions to six months.

The system of indefinite detention has drawn criticism from the UN’s Human Rights Council for being inhumane. At the same time, Japanese politicians and businesses have said they are willing to embrace a more diverse society — partly due to the country’s severe labor shortage. But the confusion over immigration has only sown anxiety among non-Japanese residents.

Public awareness is on the rise, in part because of Wishma’s death, Ash’s documentary and the invasion of . Any changes that take place are likely to happen slowly, but these factors may add momentum for reform.

Source: Opening the ‘Black Box’ of Japan’s immigration system

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 2 March Update; Japan impact and policy changes

Overall decline in infections and deaths as omicron wave passes. The big news is that numbers from China have shown a significant increase in the past week, from 134,000 to 315,000 infections and from 4,936 to 5,380 deaths, perhaps reflecting suppression of numbers pre-and post-Olympics.

Vaccinations: Some minor shifts but convergence among provinces and countries. Canadians fully vaccinated 82.2 percent, compared to Japan 79.4 percent, UK 73.3 percent and USA 65.7 percent.

Immigration source countries are also converging: China fully vaccinated 88.3 percent (numbers have not budged over past four weeks), India 57.9 percent, Nigeria 4 percent, Pakistan 45.7 percent, Philippines 58.4 percent.

Trendline Charts:

Infections: Ongoing signs of omicron and other variants plateauing.

Deaths: Quebec continues to plateau with moderate increases in other provinces but G7 still not plateauing.

Vaccinations: No major relative changes.


Infections: No relative changes. Infections per million in China have increased from 96 to 226 per million after relatively flat for over six months

Deaths: Major change again is with respect to China with deaths per million increasing from 3.5 to 3.9. Sweden is now ahead of Quebec.

COVID-19: New Immigration Rules Crack Open Japan’s Closed Door

In early December 2021, when the highly contagious Omicron variant started spreading globally, Japan slammed its border shut. In fact, except for the first months of the pandemic, it adopted a harsher border policy than during previous infection waves.

The country would essentially remain closed to all non-Japanese citizens other than existing residents.

Among the many stranded travelers were an estimated 150,000 international students who had enrolled in Japanese universities, but never made it into Japan after the borders closed in March 2020. Also affected were business people, foreign specialists and technical interns, the term used for foreign nationals who work on farms, in fishing, food processing, hotels, nursing homes or other industries faced with a serious labor shortage.

Japan’s isolationist approach was in tune with only a few other countries, such as China and Hong Kong. Australia and New Zealand  ーwhich previously had some of the strictest border rules, stopping even their own citizens from returning homeー have recently reversed their two year long isolation.

The Japanese government has been a lot more cautious. In the wake of criticism by industry leaders and academics it has now relaxed some of the entry rules. However, its general policy to ban most new entries has not changed. Tourists still remain shut out.

Nevertheless, there is some welcome positive news going into effect from March 2022.

Raised Cap on Daily Entries

In a first sign of hope, the current limit on arrivals at the Japanese border, capped to 3,500 (roughly the passenger load of 17 airplanes), has been raised to 5,000 from March 1.

Vaccination Status Matters

One of the biggest changes is that starting on March 1, Japan will distinguish between vaccinated and non-vaccinated travelers. This is a significant step for a country that was previously disinterested in vaccination status upon entry and has not adopted any kind of vaccination passport to use domestically.

Fully vaccinated travelers coming from high risk countries can isolate at home for seven days. This period can be shortened to three full days with a negative covid-test on day three.

Fully vaccinated arrivals from low risk countries have no quarantine obligation whatsoever.

Fully Vaccinated Means Three Shots

An arriving person only qualifies as vaccinated with proof of three shots. And the vaccines used need to have been approved by Japan.

Currently, there are only four approved shots: The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Plus, the only recognized third shots are for Moderna and Pfizer.

…. New Visa Applications

Last not least among the big changes, schools and businesses can now apply for new visas on behalf of business partners, workers and students, if they pledge to monitor that the incoming person will follow any necessary quarantine rules and other measures imposed.

A new website has been set up by the Ministry of Health to facilitate applications, named ERFS or “Entrants, Returnees Follow-up System”. Once the application is approved foreign entrants will get a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), a necessary step to get a visa stamped into the passport at a Japanese embassy or consulate abroad.

Only organizations, not individuals can apply through this website. If you have a COE that has recently expired or is about to do so, a new policy on the period of validity for a certificate of eligibility may be of help as some COE holders may be eligible for an extension.

It is not clear if people who currently have an unexpired COE have to apply.

It also remains to be seen how quickly new visas will be issued and what kind of priorities will be given to whom. After two years of closed borders there is a significant backlog of old cases.

As a cap of daily arrivals remains in place, even though it has now been lifted to 5,000 persons daily, many people will still be in for a long wait.

Source: COVID-19: New Immigration Rules Crack Open Japan’s Closed Door

Japan looking to allow more foreigners to stay indefinitely in a major immigration policy shift

Of note:

In a major shift for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is looking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely starting as early as the 2022 fiscal year, a justice ministry official said on Thursday.

Under a law that took effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as farming, construction and sanitation have been allowed to stay for up to five years, but without their family members.

The government had been looking to ease those restrictions, which had been cited by companies as among reasons that they were hesitant to hire such help.

If the revision takes effect, such workers — many from Vietnam and China — would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and bring their families with them, as the other category of more skilled foreigners are allowed to do now.

Immigration has long been taboo in Japan as many prize ethnic homogeneity, but pressure has mounted to open up its borders due to an acute labor shortage given its dwindling and ageing population.

“As the shrinking population becomes a more serious problem and if Japan wants to be seen as a good option for overseas workers, it needs to communicate that it has the proper structure in place to welcome them,” Toshihiro Menju, managing director of think tank Japan Center for International Exchange, told Reuters.

The 2019 law was meant to attract some 345,000 “specified skilled workers” over five years, but the intake has hovered at around 3,000 per month before the Covid-19 pandemic sealed the borders, according to government data.

As of late 2020, Japan housed 1.72 million foreign workers, out of a total population of 125.8 million and just 2.5% of its working population.

Source: Japan looking to allow more foreigners to stay indefinitely in a major immigration policy shift

Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Of note:

South Korean court on Monday rejected a claim by dozens of World War II-era Korean factory workers and their relatives who sought compensation from 16 Japanese companies for their slave labor during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.

The decision by the Seoul Central District Court appeared to run against landmark Supreme Court rulings in 2018 that ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers.

It largely aligns with the position maintained by the Japanese government, which insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations between the two nations that was accompanied by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.

A total of 85 plaintiffs had sought a combined 8.6 billion won ($7.7 million) in damages from 16 Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel, Nissan Chemical and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The court dismissed their civil lawsuit after concluding the 1965 treaty doesn’t allow South Korean citizens to pursue legal action against the Japanese government or citizens over wartime grievances. Accepting the plaintiffs’ claim would violate international legal principles that countries cannot use domestic law as justification for failures to perform a treaty, the court said.

Some plaintiffs told reporters outside the court they planned to appeal. An emotional Lim Chul-ho, 85, the son of a deceased forced laborer, said the court made a “pathetic” decision that should have never happened.

“Are they really South Korean judges? Is this really a South Korean court?” he asked. “We don’t need a country or government that doesn’t protect its own people.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect diplomacy between the estranged U.S. allies, which have faced pressure from the Biden administration to repair relations that sank to postwar lows during the Trump years over history and trade disputes.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it respects the decisions by domestic courts and is willing to engage in talks with Tokyo to find “rational” solutions that can satisfy both governments and the wartime victims.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Tokyo was carefully watching the developments in South Korea and hoping that Seoul would take a responsible action to improve ties. He said bilateral relations were still in a “severe condition” because of issues related to Korean forced laborers and wartime sex slaves.

“We believe it is important for South Korea to act responsibly to resolve the outstanding problems between the two countries and we will be watching concrete proposals by the South Korean side aimed at resolving the problems,” Kato said at a news briefing.

The plaintiffs had said the workers endured harsh conditions that caused “extreme” mental and physical pain that prevented them from resuming normal lives after they returned home at the end of the war.

The Seoul court said in its ruling that it had to consider that forcing Japanese companies to compensate the victims would cause significant “adverse reactions” for South Korea internationally.

“A forcible execution (of compensation) would violate the large constitutional principles of ensuring the safety of the country and maintaining order, and would constitute an abuse of power,” the court said, describing its ruling as an “inevitable” decision.

In April, the court issued a similar ruling on a claim by Korean victims of Japanese wartime sexual slavery and their relatives, another sticking point in bilateral relations. In that ruling, the court denied their claim for compensation from Japan’s government, citing diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant countries immunity from the jurisdiction of foreign courts.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers. Those rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan placed export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.

Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade and threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that was a major symbol of their three-way security cooperation with Washington. South Korea eventually backed off and continued the deal after being pressured by the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.

South Korea’s tone on Japan has softened since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been stepping up efforts to bolster three-way cooperation among the countries that declined under Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in the face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a nationally televised speech in March said his government was eager to build “future-oriented” ties with Japan and that the countries should not allow their wartime past to hold them back.

Source: Seoul court rejects slave labor claim against Japanese firms

Japan’s proposed immigration law revisions deal fresh blow to refugees

Of note:

While Japan accepts very few refugee applications annually, legal changes designed to crack down on what the government says are abuses of the asylum process are expected to make it even harder for genuine refugees to find shelter in the country.

Japan has been criticized by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for accepting only around 1 percent of applications it receives. In 2020, it certified just 47 people as refugees out of the 3,936 applications lodged.

Moradi, an Iranian who fled to Japan in 2007 and declined to give his full name, was granted refugee status last year after winning a case at the Tokyo High Court to conclude a 13-year legal struggle. He filed a total of three applications and two lawsuits.

“I felt like I was reborn after spending so many days just enduring. I plan to live in this country for the rest of my life,” he said through a Japanese interpreter.

The 56-year-old converted from Islam to Christianity and said he would be considered an apostate and could even face execution if he returns to Iran. Moradi now lives in Saitama Prefecture with his Iranian wife, who he later brought to Japan, and works full-time at a recycling company.

According to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, of those who were recognized as refugees by Japan between 2010 and 2018, about 9 percent, or 19 people, had applied multiple times.

But Japan’s parliament on Friday started deliberations on a bill that aims to amend the immigration law so that foreigners can be deported after they have applied for refugee status three times.

As of January 2020, there were around 82,000 foreigners illegally overstaying in Japan. Some 10,000 repatriate annually after receiving deportation orders but about 3,000 stay in the country each year, making repeated asylum applications as deportation procedures are automatically halted for people claiming refugee status.

Tomoko Uraki, a lawyer representing Moradi, said the revisions could result in the deportation of refugees who, like her client, should be protected.

“People who would be recognized as refugees in other countries are not being recognized in Japan, but that part of the law is not being revised,” she said.

Shogo Watanabe, a lawyer who specializes in helping people from Myanmar apply for refugee status, notes that none of the 2,000 Myanmarese who applied for asylum in the past three years was approved.

“It is clearly wrong to push through a provision allowing deportation after the third application before carrying out the proper practice of refugee recognition,” he said.

In a joint statement dated March 31, a group of United Nations’ experts called on the Japanese government to review its proposed revisions, saying they failed to meet international standards from the standpoint of human rights.

The bill lacks provisions specifying a maximum detention period and instead contains penalties for foreigners who refuse to return to their countries of origin, including up to one year in prison for those who physically resist while on an airplane.

Source: Japan’s proposed immigration law revisions deal fresh blow to refugees

Japan’s Changing Immigration and Refugee Policy – The Diplomat

Of note:

During the current ordinary session of the Diet, the Japanese government plans to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in order to prevent the long-term detention of foreign nationals. To this end, a cabinet decision to revise the legislation was made on February 19, 2021.

The revision of the legislation was influenced by domestic and international criticism against Japan’s immigration and refugee policy. In September 2020, the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report of opinions that the long-term detention of asylum seekers in Japan should be improved in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Indeed, quite a few foreign nationals have repeatedly applied for refugee status so that they could stay in Japan during the multiple recognition processes, causing lengthy detentions.

In order to rectify the system, the Japanese government decided to limit the number of times one can apply for refugee status. In theory, such a measure would shorten detention period and facilitate earlier deportation. Moreover, the new legislation could enable detainees to live outside of a detention center under supervision of an authorized individual or organization. Notably, the legislation would allow those who cannot return their home countries, due to conflicts, to stay in Japan, which is a meaningful change.

On the other hand, it was reported that the government-drafted legislation contains a number of controversial provisions, too. For instance, the legislation would enable the government to deport detainees after a third application, unless proper reasons and evidence for refugee status are provided. Moreover, the authorities will be allowed to levy criminal penalties on those who refuse deportation orders. Although the revised legislation would allow detainees to live outside of detention centers under supervision, those who flee would be legally punished by penalties, such as an imprisonment of up to one year, a maximum fine of 200,000 yen ($1,900), or both. Thus, the content of the revised legislation demonstrates that Japan’s immigration and refugee policy could remain strict.

The history of Japan’s immigration and refugee policy dates back to the 1917 Russian Revolution. At that time, asylum seekers from Russia fled to Japan. The Empire of Japan did not recognize them as refugees, but many, including Fyodor Morozoff, were allowed to stay in Japan. At the end of the 1930s, many Jewish people being persecuted in Europe by Nazi Germany sought escape. Jewish asylum seekers fled to Japan with transit visas issued by a Japanese diplomat, Sugihara Chiune, but they were not given refugee status upon arriving in Japan. After the end of World War II, the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) was adopted in July 1951. The Japanese government enacted its Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act in October that same year. In 1967, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Protocol) entered into force.

In 1975, Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived in Japan, and in 1978, the Japanese government formulated its refugee policy to accept refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In 1981, the Japanese government signed the 1951 Refugee Convention as well as the 1967 Refugee Protocol, and revised its domestic legislation. In 2002, it was broadcasted on TV that North Koreans had sought asylum in the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, but their attempt ended in failure. In 2004, the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act was revised, and a provisional stay system and panel of refugee examination councilors was introduced in Japan. In 2010, the Japanese government initiated its third country resettlement (refugee resettlement) program, although its contribution is considerably limited. In 2016, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced a plan that the government would accept Syrians as students in Japan. In academia, some experts have suggested Japan’s future identity as a “migration state,” predicting the emergence of a reformed national immigration policy.

A shift in Japan’s immigration policy did occur under the Abe administration. In April 2019, the government decided to accept low-skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers under a specified skills visa program as a measure against labor shortages in Japan. In the program, some specified skilled workers (Category I) are allowed to stay and work in Japan for up to five years unaccompanied by their family members, and other specified skilled workers (Category II) are able to extend the duration of their stay in Japan. Under the amended legislation, the government planned to accept 345,000 foreign workers in five years. This was regarded as a critical policy shift in Japan’s immigration policy, yet some Japanese people were worried about the deterioration of social order as well as an increase in crime rate due to the influx of immigrants. Abe explained that “it was not an immigration policy that has everyone so worried,” and the acceptance of specified skilled workers remains limited. As a recent public opinion survey indicates, the Japanese public has mixed feelings toward the government’s policy on permanent residency for foreign nationals.

Non-Japanese nationals who overstayed their visas in Japan and receive a deportation order are supposed to leave Japan or to be sent to a detention center. It has been reported that most foreign nationals who receive deportation orders do leave Japan, but those who have family in Japan and those who fear that their safety would be threatened in their home countries refuse to be deported. In such cases, the duration of detention tends to be prolonged, causing inhumane situations in detention centers.

In June 2019, a Nigerian man passed away in a detention center in Nagasaki prefecture as a result of a hunger strike to protest against his lengthy detention of more than three years. The Nigerian man received a deportation order after serving time in a prison for a criminal offense. He asked for provisional release, claiming that he had right to stay in Japan as he had married a Japanese women, although the marriage ended in divorce, and had children. The death of the Nigerian man caused domestic and international criticismagainst the lengthy detention and the monitoring system in Japan.

The coronavirus pandemic has further aggravated the health conditions of detention centers in Japan. In April 2020, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations issued a statement calling for the prompt release of detainees to prevent the spread of infection. The detention facilities released more than half of their detainees as a measure against the spread of the coronavirus, but in August 2020, a detainee at the Tokyo Regional Immigration Services Bureau located in Tokyo’s Minato Ward tested positive for COVID-19. In March 2021, it came to light that more than 50 detainees at a detention center in Shinagawa in Tokyo tested positive for the virus, which can be regarded as a cluster infection. The Suga government therefore needs to take the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic in detention centers into deeper consideration.

In comparison with other countries, the refugee acceptance rate in Japan is one of the lowest. In 2019, Japan recognized only 44 foreign nationals as refugees (0.4 percent of all applicants), whereas the United States accepted 44,614 refugees (29.6 percent) and Germany accepted 53,973 refugees (25.9 percent). Globally speaking, as a host nation of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the international community is becoming more and more interested in Japan’s immigration and refugee policy as well as its policy toward human rights.

In order to protect human rights of foreign nationals in Japan, it is essential for Japanese politicians and bureaucrats to remember and respect the Constitution of Japan as well as international law. Article 97 of the constitution stipulates: “The fundamental human rights by this Constitution guaranteed to the people of Japan are fruits of the age-old struggle of man to be free.” Furthermore, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsreads: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” In the name of the supreme law of the nation, Japan is expected to change its immigration and refugee policy for the better and to faithfully observe the related international human rights law, especially the principle of non-refoulement, which guarantees “no one should be returned to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment and other irreparable harm.”

Source: Japan’s Changing Immigration and Refugee Policy – The Diplomat

Japan court upholds ban on dual citizenship

Of note:

A Japanese court upheld a ban on dual citizenship on Thursday, rejecting a suit that challenged the measure’s constitutionality and sought damages for those affected.

Japan is one of around 50 countries internationally, including China and South Korea, that only permits its citizens to hold one nationality.

Under current rules, Japanese people who acquire another passport are asked to relinquish their Japanese citizenship, but in 2018 eight plaintiffs started legal proceedings, arguing the rule was unconstitutional.

One of them, Hitoshi Nogawa, has told reporters that being forced to give up his nationality was a “painful experience.”

“I obtained Swiss nationality because my job requires it, but I’m emotionally attached to Japan and this is the foundation of my identity,” the Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted him as saying.

The plaintiffs are six men who have already obtained Swiss or Liechtenstein citizenship, and two Japanese men who want to obtain foreign citizenship without losing their Japanese passports, local media said.

They argued that the rule was a violation of the constitution’s right to pursue happiness and protection of equality under the law.

But on Thursday, the Tokyo district court rejected their suit and request for damages, a spokesman said, upholding the constitutionality of the rule.

The government argued there was no national interest in permitting multiple citizenships, Kyodo news agency reported.

The issue was thrust into the spotlight with the rise to fame of tennis star Naomi Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father but raised in the United States.

Osaka had dual citizenship but under Japanese law was technically required to choose one nationality when she turned 22, though authorities in Japan have been known to turn a blind eye to dual nationals in some circumstances.

The 23-year-old announced in 2019 that she would be renouncing her US citizenship.

Source: Japan court upholds ban on dual citizenship

Editorial: Tightening Japan’s immigration regs no excuse to trample human rights

Of note:

A government expert committee has submitted its recommendations for dealing with the problem of foreign citizens being held for months, and in some cases years, at Japan’s immigration detention centers.

The committee has called for a system of penalties for foreigners who ignore deportation orders, as well as for the government to consider how to handle people who make repeated refugee claims. The proposed rules are notable for their severity.

As of the end of 2019, there were 1,054 people being held at Immigration Service Agency of Japan detention facilities. Of those, 462 had been locked up for six months or more. According to the agency, the long-term detentions are due to people refusing to be repatriated. However, most foreigners without a legal residency status have left Japan after being ordered to do so. In a great many cases where a person has refused to go, it is because their lives would be endangered if they went home, or because they have families in Japan.

In light of this, it is questionable whether imposing penalties for those refusing deportation orders would have a significant impact on repatriation. We rather worry that the move will result in shrinking support for foreigners who cannot go home.

The committee’s recommendation that measures be considered to deport refugee claimants mid-application in exceptional cases was apparently based on the recognition that there are quite a few people abusing the system by filing repeated claims to avoid leaving Japan. However, deporting a person who may be a refugee is forbidden under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

We must wonder if, considering the scant few people granted refugee status here compared with global norms, this country’s refugee system isn’t too strict already. A total of 10,375 people applied for refugee status in Japan last year. Of those, only 44 were accepted. Perhaps the government had best rethink its evaluation process before talking about mid-application deportations.

Taking a foreigner to an immigration detention center is supposed to be preparation for them to be deported. Many other places have legal maximums for how long a person can be detained in this way. For example, the upper limit in the European Union is six months. There is no such rule in Japan. However, the expert committee report does not address limiting detention times in a concrete way. It does call for a review mechanism to be created for cases where a person has been held for a certain length of time, to evaluate whether continued detention is appropriate. However, we believe these reviews should not be conducted by the immigration agency or its parent, the Justice Ministry, but by the courts.

The United Nations has expressed concerns about Japan’s immigration system on multiple occasions. Last year, a Nigerian man who had been held at a detention center for three and a half years died of starvation following a hunger strike.

To avoid long-term detentions, the government should consider a flexible approach to granting temporary leave permission to detainees, allowing them back out into the world for a set time. Special consideration is also needed for those detainees with families and well-established lives in Japan.

Strengthening immigration management in this country cannot be made an excuse to obviate the human rights of foreign citizens.

Source: Editorial: Tightening Japan’s immigration regs no excuse to trample human rights

Japan’s ban on multiple citizenship outdated, unconstitutional: expert, plaintiffs

Will be interesting to see results:

Japan’s Nationality Act, which forbids multiple citizenship, is again in the spotlight after tennis player Naomi Osaka selected Japanese citizenship over American nationality in 2019. Meanwhile, there is an ongoing legal battle being waged by plaintiffs arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Over 70% of member states of the United Nations permit their people to have more than one citizenship. In a world where it’s become quite common to see individuals from diverse backgrounds and for people to compete on the global stage, some experts are demanding that Japan do the same.

The Japanese Nationality Act stipulates that a child born to a Japanese parent is legally Japanese. Meanwhile, some nations have a system where a child born in such countries to a Japanese parent becomes a dual citizen of that place and Japan.

The Japanese law requires anyone who was born with or obtained multiple nationality before the age of 20 to pick one of them before their 22nd birthday. Those who acquire citizenship of another country after turning 20 must decide which one to keep within a two-year period.

Naomi Osaka held both Japanese and U.S. citizenships but decided to keep her Japanese citizenship before she turned 22. Her choice has been seen as an indication of her desire to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics as a Japanese tennis player.

But because individuals who choose to keep their Japanese nationality are only “obliged to make an effort” to give up other citizenships, there are people in Japan who continue to hold two or more passports. According to a 2018 estimate by the Justice Ministry, about 925,000 Japanese have multiple citizenship.

Furthermore, foreigners wanting to acquire Japanese nationality are required to submit a certificate showing they have forfeited their original citizenship. But those from countries without renunciation procedures can also become dual citizens. On the other hand, Japanese people who choose a foreign nationality “of their own will” automatically have their Japanese citizenship revoked.

Hitoshi Nogawa, 76, a businessperson from Switzerland, is one of eight plaintiffs who have filed a suit against the Japanese government arguing that “depriving people who obtained foreign nationality of Japanese citizenship against their will is a violation of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to pursue happiness and other privileges.”

Nogawa, who effectively lost his Japanese citizenship for acquiring Swiss nationality, said, “I identify as Japanese, but it feels like I’ve become half a person. I feel bad for my ancestors and, in the current situation, I don’t plan on being buried with them.”

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, Nogawa moved to Switzerland in his 20s and established a trading company. In order to bid on a public works project, he needed Swiss citizenship, which he obtained in 2001. He did not encounter any trouble until 2013, when he was told by the Japanese Embassy there, “If you don’t choose one (nationality), it’s going to be a problem.”

The request is based on the Nationality Act, which stipulates that people who acquire foreign citizenship lose their Japanese nationality, and requires them to submit a citizenship renunciation notification.

For Nogawa, giving up his Swiss nationality would have posed a problem for his work and discarding his Japanese citizenship would have meant losing his identity. Caught in a dilemma, he refused to respond to the embassy’s request and did not submit the notification. In 2015, he tried to renew his Japanese passport but was rejected. To this day, he has not been able to renew it.

Nogawa and seven others living overseas filed a suit with the Tokyo District Court in March 2018. Six of the plaintiffs, who have already acquired citizenships of different countries, are demanding confirmation that they are in possession of their Japanese citizenship, and two others who seek to obtain foreign nationality are looking for confirmation that they will not lose their Japanese citizenship when they do so.

The stipulation in the Nationality Act that bans multiple citizenship has not been revised since it first went into force under the Meiji Constitution, Japan’s prewar and wartime supreme law. Teruo Naka, a lawyer of the plaintiffs’ legal team says the law “does not correspond to the flow of the times.”

In contrast, the government argues that “people having multiple citizenship could cause friction between nations depending on which country’s protection they come under” among other counterarguments. The Justice Ministry, which enforces the Nationality Act’s provisions, explains that “the withdrawal of Japanese citizenship is not a deprivation, and reacquisition is allowed if necessary.” The suit is proceeding at the district court.

As of 2019, around 150, or 75% of United Nations member states, permit multiple nationalities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”

Teru Sasaki, professor of transnational sociology at Aomori Public University, conducted an online survey of Japanese citizens in 2019, in which around 60% of the 3,171 respondents supported the option, “Japanese citizens who obtain a foreign nationality should not have to lose their Japanese citizenship.”

The study results suggest that “society is tolerant of multiple nationalities, and there is a gap between the sense of ordinary citizens and the legal system,” said Sasaki.

Employment regulations for some civil servants, including Diet members, require that they have Japanese citizenship, and people who have foreign nationality cannot become diplomats. To permit multiple citizenship, discussions on job restrictions may also be necessary.

Source: Japan’s ban on multiple citizenship outdated, unconstitutional: expert, plaintiffs

Can Japan Embrace Multiculturalism?

Appears to be a good overview of the challenges and welcome any comments from those with experience in Japan:

In April 2019, Japan officially opened its doors to lower-skilled foreign workers under a major revision of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. The creation of the Specified Skills visa program for blue-collar and other workers represents a historic change in Japanese immigration policy. But questions linger as to whether Japanese society, often described as insular and homogeneous, is prepared to welcome foreign residents and facilitate their participation on an equal footing.

Can Japan Become More Open?

I was confronted by such questions when I traveled to Cairo last December, at the behest of the Japan Foundation, to speak in Parliament and at Cairo University. “Do you think Japanese society can change and become less insular?” I was asked. “Isn’t the government just admitting foreign workers to do the jobs Japanese people don’t want any more?”

These are legitimate concerns. The Japanese have a reputation for looking down on nonwhites from other countries. Moreover, the recent deterioration in diplomatic relations between Japan and its neighbors, China and South Korea, has affected popular sentiment regarding the citizens of those nations. The far-right Japan First Party attracted considerable media attention during the unified local elections of 2019 with its anti-Korean, anti-immigration rhetoric (though the party has yet to win a seat at the local or national level).

It should be stressed that one rarely encounters such extreme forms of bigotry among ordinary Japanese people. Foreign students and trainees from Asia and elsewhere have entered Japan by the tens of thousands over the past two decades and have become a familiar sight behind the counters of convenience stores. Almost everyone in the local community views them positively, as intrepid, hard-working young people coping with the demands of life far from home. Increasingly, the Japanese people are coming to see that their society will need foreigners if it is to continue functioning as the native population dwindles and ages.

However, there is no doubt that foreign residents face serious challenges adapting to life in Japan, and that much remains to be done to ensure that our new immigration system works. In the following, I review some of the steps taken thus far before spotlighting the key issues demanding action.

Community-Driven Change

Until quite recently, the central government has done very little from a policy standpoint to assist foreigners living in Japan or promote their integration into society. On the other hand, local governments and nonprofit organizations have been working hard to fill the gap at the regional and community level. The municipal governments of Nagoya and Kitakyūshū and the Nagano prefectural government have set aside an annual “multicultural month” devoted to educating the public about cultural diversity and tolerance. In terms of legislation, Miyagi Prefecture has led the way with its Ordinance Pertaining to the Promotion of the Formation of a Multicultural Society , aimed at “building a community that upholds the human rights and social participation of all prefectural residents regardless of nationality or ethnicity.” The government has established a support center and other multilingual resources for foreign nationals and holds regular social events bringing together Japanese residents and foreigners living and working in the prefecture under the Technical Intern Training Program (see below). Shizuoka Prefecture has passed a similar ordinance.

Hate speech is an important target of efforts to promote tolerance. The central government made some attempt to address the issue with the 2016 Act on the Promotion of Efforts to Eliminate Unfair Discriminatory Speech and Behavior against Persons Originating from Outside Japan, although it fell short of criminalizing such behavior. Osaka enacted its own ordinance against hate speech in the same year, and in December 2019, Kawasaki became the first municipality to pass an ordinance that makes hate speech a punishable offense.

In Shinjuku, a municipality in central Tokyo with a large foreign population, a community council was established by local ordinance with the aim of building a more harmonious and livable community for Japanese and foreign residents alike. The Shinjuku Multicultural Community Building Committee, of which I am chair, holds regular meetings where representatives of various ethnic groups freely share their experiences and opinions. In this way, we are working to shed light on and improve the living conditions of Shinjuku’s growing population of foreign nationals.

Discrimination in Daily Life

As part of its effort to build a harmonious multicultural community, Shinjuku has conducted an extensive questionnaire survey of its foreign and Japanese residents. The results of the 2015 survey help to highlight the challenges facing newcomers to Japanese society as they attempt to lay the basic foundations for daily life, from renting an apartment to opening a bank account.

The 2015 Shinjuku survey asked foreign residents how frequently they felt subject to discrimination or prejudice in their dealings with Japanese. A full 35% responded that “it happens sometimes,” and another 7.5% reported that “it happens often.” More than half of these (51.9%), the largest number, identified “apartment hunting” as a situation in which they encountered discrimination. The second most frequently cited situation was “looking for a job” (33.2%), followed by “administrative procedures” (25.6%).

Comments in the “free response” section of the survey reveal a wide range of impressions. A woman from Myanmar had nothing but praise for Shinjuku, declaring that, in her seven months in Japan, everyone she had dealt with, from municipal officials to hospital and school employees, had treated her and her family courteously and kindly and that she had seen no evidence of discrimination. However, another woman lamented that her husband had been turned away time and again when searching for an apartment for the sole reason that he did not speak Japanese. She called on municipal authorities to publish local housing guides for foreigners.

Overcoming the Language Barrier

The language barrier is cited time and again as an obstacle to integration with the local community. In the 2015 survey, 58.6% of respondents reported experiencing difficulties with the Japanese language. “Reading newspapers and notices” was the problem most frequently cited (49.3%), followed by “understanding instructions from municipal officials and hospital staff” (46.6%) and “ordinary conversation” (37.6%). Among the comments in the free-response section were calls for multilingual editions of the Guide to Living in Shinjuku and other publications. “It’s very common to find oneself in violation of the rules simply because one can’t read Japanese,” commented one Chinese woman. Others called for expansion of the Japanese language classes sponsored by the municipal government. “One class a week is not enough to master Japanese,” said a Chinese woman, adding that “lessons focused on Japanese used in daily life would be ideal.”

The language barrier can be a serious issue for children as well as adults. Lack of proficiency in Japanese often leads to poor achievement and social isolation at school. Indeed, just “looking like a foreigner” can provoke bullying in many cases. Some parents transfer their children to international school to protect them, but for many the tuition is prohibitive. Children who are bullied or shunned at school are apt to drop out and grow up undereducated, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and isolation.

In December 2018, in conjunction with the revised immigration law, the government announced a package of “comprehensive measures for acceptance and coexistence of foreign nationals.” Under the policy, the government, recognizing foreign residents as members of the community, has allocated ¥21.1 billion for measures to promote inclusion and integration. In June 2019, it enacted the Act for the Promotion of Japanese Language Education, which explicitly recognizes the government’s responsibility to provide language instruction to foreigners living in Japan. These are important steps forward.

Closing the Back Door

Unfortunately, the “comprehensive measures” do not have the force of law and do not guarantee the rights of foreign residents. The lack of guarantees is particularly alarming in light of the continued expansion of the Technical Intern Training Program, which has been widely criticized for opening the door to human rights abuses and illegal immigration.

Established in 1993, the TITP has served for years now as a backdoor for foreign workers, who are recruited from other Asian countries ostensibly for training purposes. Admitted for a limited stay, the “interns” are assigned to farms, factories, and construction firms in need of cheap labor. They work at minimum wage and are not permitted to change jobs. Human-rights abuses have been reported, and some 9,000 of the interns have gone missing, according to the latest government figures.

As of fiscal year 2018, approximately 80,000 foreign trainees were entering Japan each year under the program. Recently, the number of interns assigned to workplaces in Kyūshū and Shikoku has spiked as labor shortages worsen in those outlying regions. There is good cause to worry that these workers, denied such basic rights as fair wages and freedom of movement, will encounter hardship and discrimination as they pour into communities that have little prior experience with foreigners. The result could be more disappearances and visa overstays, as well as potential public safety problems. What we need is a fundamental law on the status and rights of foreign residents in Japan.

“One Team” for Japan’s Future

During the 2019 Rugby World Cup, held in Japan under the motto “One Team,” the multinational, racially diverse Japanese rugby team thrilled and inspired fans with its historic advance to the top eight. Overcoming their differences to achieve a common goal, the Brave Blossoms offered a shining example for Japanese society to follow in the coming years.

Japan’s population is declining at a rate of nearly 500,000 a year. The number of foreign residents is increasing at a rate of about 200,000, and that growth is expected to pick up.

The future of Japanese society hinges on our ability to adapt our systems and our attitudes to these new realities. The government needs to send a clear message about its commitment to building an inclusive society in which foreign and Japanese nationals can live and work together harmoniously.

(Originally published in Japanese.

Source: Can Japan Embrace Multiculturalism?