Diet approves revised law on immigration

In a major policy shift, the Upper House on Wednesday passed an immigration revision bill that will tighten controls on illegal foreigners while [supposedly] easing restrictions on those living here legally.

The main feature of the revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law is the introduction of an IC card that will replace the existing alien registration card. Foreign residents with the new cards will be registered in the Basic Resident Register, and their whereabouts will be uniformly monitored by the central government.

The revised law will take effect within the next three years.

At the end of 2008, a record 2.217 million people held alien registration cards, which can be obtained from local governments even without a proper visa.

However, only legally residing foreigners who have stayed in Japan for more than three months will be able to receive the IC cards and be entered in the Basic Resident Register.

Changes of address will be monitored by the Justice Ministry through municipalities. Businesses and schools will be obliged to make efforts to cooperate with the central government in providing information on foreign nationals they employ or enroll.

Foreign residents will be required to carry the IC cards at all times, much like the rules for alien registration cards.

Also like the alien registration cards, the new cards will carry the bearer’s picture, name, nationality, address, as well as visa status and period of validity.

The new cards will clearly state whether the card holder is allowed to work in Japan…[and] the IC chips will prevent counterfeiting.

The benefits of the revisions for legally residing foreign residents include an extension of the maximum length of visas from three to five years.

In addition, foreign residents traveling abroad will no longer be required to obtain re-entry permits as long as they return to Japan within a year.

But one problem with the new system is how to deal with the estimated 130,000 illegal foreigners in the country. Some critics predict that undocumented foreigners could be driven underground.

The revisions also include amendments to an industrial training and technical internship program. The amendments offer a new visa status for foreign trainees. They will be protected under labor standard and minimum wage laws from their first year in Japan.

This revision will take effect within a year.