Japan ousts foreign
By Hussain Khan
TOKYO - Japan, increasingly concerned about as
many as 250,000 foreign workers who have overstayed
their visas, is cracking down. In the month from
September 19 to October 17, immigration forces and the
Tokyo police caught 1,643 illegal foreign workers, the
largest number recorded so far for a single month. Most
were caught in Tokyo's 23 wards as well as the suburban
On October 17, Justice Minister Daizo
Nozawa announced a joint effort between Tokyo's
metropolitan police force and the Immigration Department
to attempt to catch and deport as many illegals as
possible. Nozawa also vowed to simplify deportation
procedures to get them out of the country faster,
without handing them to police for deportation.
That Japan has had an uneasy relationship with
foreigners goes without saying. It is a society that has
been deeply distrustful of gaijin, as foreigners
are known, regarding them as culturally inferior. Under
the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan remained a sakoku,
a closed country. For centuries, no foreigners were
allowed to enter Japan, and Japanese were forbidden from
going out until US Commodore Matthew Perry famously
forced open the borders in 1853.
anti-foreign antipathy remains so deeply rooted in
Japanese society that gaijin cannot rent a house
easily without providing the name of a Japanese
guarantor. Indeed, in many areas, landlords won't rent
to foreigners even with a guarantor. Some Americans
complain that they have been unable to rent apartments
for as long as five years.
But as the population
ages and the country's needs for labor have grown, it
has grudgingly opened its doors to temporary workers -
very grudgingly. The United Nations has estimated that
because of its aging population, Japan could use as many
as 600,000 foreign-born workers as immigrants per year.
Nonetheless, only 0.2 percent of its population is
foreign-born, compared to as much as 20 percent of
Australia's and 18 percent in the US.
endemic problems for Japanese society. The US, for
instance, has long cross-fertilized its scientific and
industrial communities with the foreign-born. The number
of foreign-born winners of American Nobel prizes in the
sciences and mathematics provides a dramatic example of
such contributions by immigrants. It is arguable that
the information technology revolution in Silicon Valley
in the 1980s and 1990s would not have been nearly as
dramatic without the contributions of Indian, Chinese
and other immigrants.
Japan will have none of
it. And as unemployment has grown during the country's
long economic downturn, suspicion of foreigners has
increased, driving foreign-born workers underground, as
evidenced by the special campaign started to catch them
in Tokyo and its environs. Of the September-October
arrests, some 366 were Chinese, 326 Filipinos, 256
Malaysians, 166 Indonesians and the rest other
Nor are Japanese authorities
particularly gentle about carrying out their deportation
procedures. The press has been giving special attention
to the case of a 31-year-old West Asian woman whose
forced deportation with her two infants is regarded as a
particular example of official high-handedness.
The woman was detained for more than 15 months
without being allowed to stay with her infants, who were
forcibly taken from her and held in a separate
child-care facility. Despite concerns on the part of the
United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Japan,
Amnesty International Japan and supporting such
organizations as the Japan Association for Refugees, she
was expelled from the country without a chance to appear
in court on the day her lawyer Satoko Kitamura, was to
appeal against the deportation order. Kitamura called
the case "inhumane".
The Japanese authorities
are unswayed. In the wake of the October 17 meeting, a
joint communique was issued by immigration, police and
the Justice Ministry declaring that:
1) A strong campaign will be
carried out for catching and for forced deportation of
all overstayed foreign workers.
2) At the time of
entry into Japan, visa requirements will be checked and
enforced strictly and eligibility for a temporary stay
in Japan will also be tightened.
3) Employers of the
overstayed foreign workers and the brokers involved in
it will be dealt with more severely.
more than 1,000 cases were dealt with directly by
immigration without referring them for prosecution. This
procedure will be expanded further to apply it to all
overstayed foreign workers. The only exceptions will be
those workers who are found involved in criminal
According to Home Ministry
statistics up to January last year, some 224,067 foreign
workers overstayed their visas. Of those, 55,164 were
Koreans, 29,649 Filipinos and 27,582 were Chinese.
Indonesians were eighth with 6,393, but that was an
increase of about 30 percent compared to their number of
4,947 a year earlier.
According to a report in
the Japan Times, some 1,739 illegal passports, visas and
other travel documents were confiscated at Japanese
airports and ports from January to June, up 42 percent
from the same period last year. The Justice Ministry
said 853 passports were forged, 50 percent of which were
held by Chinese nationals. According to the Immigration
Bureau, 423 Chinese had bogus passports, followed by 81
Iranians, 77 Thais and 65 Filipinos.
ministry official said immigration authorities were able
to find more illegal documents because the SARS (severe
acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic led to a decrease
in foreigners entering and leaving Japan, and allowed
for better scrutiny.
To make immigration control
more effective, Japan is planning to make use of
biometric technology. In the next fiscal year, the
Ministry of Justice has budgeted 48 million yen
[US$439,000] for developing this technology with the
cooperation of the private sector.
of Foreign Affairs is also planning the use of
electronic passports in coordination with the
International Civil Aviation Organization and the Group
of Eight major countries, who are working to create
international standards for the use of biometrics.
Electronic passports will contain integrated
circuit chips with data about the passport holder using
his fingerprints, palm prints, skull structure, retina,
iris, voice and other biological characteristics. These
biometric checks are to be installed in all immigration
This growing stiffness over immigration
has sparked growing debate in the letters columns of
Japanese newspapers. One gaijin wrote: "The
trouble with immigration is not that people will be a
burden to the host society or take jobs from those
living there. The trouble is outdated attitudes and
racist government policies. There will always be a need
for certain people to fill certain vacancies in society
or to create new business opportunities. It is the onus
of the host country to let immigrants work and pay taxes
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara
has been the most xenophobic leader advocating racist
policies. Shintaro has offered additional forces to the
immigration department to root out all overstayed
foreign workers from Tokyo and its suburban areas. But
he is not alone. In fact, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
leaders in the run-up to Sunday's election made
political capital out of the foreign-overstayer problem,
playing on fears that the foreign-born are responsible
for rising crime rates.
Nor are the dead immune.
Saudi Arabian King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, for
instance, sent US$700,000 some years ago for the
purchase of a graveyard for Japan's Muslims. Despite the
passage of several years, neither local Muslims nor the
Saudi Embassy has been able to purchase land for the
purpose. Either local Japanese jurisdictions do not
allow the sale of such land for those purchases, even
for dead foreigners, or local city governments won't
give the necessary permissions.
In some outlying
areas, if the dead are Japanese Muslims, they are asked
to burn their dead, according to Japanese laws
applicable to the country's own citizens, instead of
burying them in graveyards.
holds a master's degree in economics from Tokyo
University and has worked in Japan as an equities
analyst. He is an independent Tokyo-based analyst on
current affairs and economic issues for various
newspapers and magazines. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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