TOKYO — While Japan is set to up foreign worker numbers under new residency statuses expected to start next year, the Ministry of Justice is considering rejecting applications by individuals from countries that have refused to take back citizens deported by Japan in the past, according to people familiar with the ministry’s thinking.
The ministry is also looking at especially thorough checks of visa applications from people from countries whose citizens have an extensive history of abusing the refugee claimant system or numerous visa overstay violations.
The government wishes to impose the measures over concerns that the new five-year residency status will result in more illegal foreign residents. The new status is envisioned for workers in industries with acute labor shortages such as construction and nursing care. They would be required to have certain technical skills and Japanese language proficiency, and not be unaccompanied by family members. The government intends to submit a bill to introduce the new visa status in the upcoming extraordinary session of the Diet, for implementation in the spring of 2019.
According to the ministry’s Immigration Bureau, many foreigners detained at the 17 immigration centers across Japan refuse deportation, although they can go home immediately if they choose to. These foreigners remain in detention after being ordered to leave Japan for overstaying their visas or for convictions in criminal cases.
Moreover, some countries refuse to take back their own nationals deported by Japan, despite “their obligation under international customary practice to accept such people,” according to a senior ministry official. For example, Iran apparently refuses to issue documents necessary for the deportation or acceptance of their own nationals unless the individuals concerned say they want to come home, citing the country’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of residence or transfer.
As a result of these situations and other factors, the number of foreigners detained at immigration centers increased to 1,309 at the end of July from 1,133 at the end of 2016. Of that total, long-term detainees staying six months or more at the facilities more than doubled to 709 from 313 during the same period.
The ministry is thus looking to reduce the risk of rising illegal resident numbers by rejecting five-year visa applications from workers from countries that effectively encourage their citizens to refuse deportation.
The justice ministry is also considering applying stricter standards to five-year visa applications from countries whose nationals have a track record of trying to take advantage of the refugee claim system. Such applications jumped after March 2010, when Japan began allowing applicants to work six months after they had filed papers to be recognized as refugees. In response, the government began in January this year to deport foreigners whose first applications clearly indicated they did not meet refugee status criteria, and whose visas had expired.
The number of refugee applicants in the first half of this year decreased for the first time in eight years, but abusive or mistaken applications remain a problem, according to ministry officials.