Drawing a bead on illegal residents

New law would tighten up oversight of foreigners

Human rights groups complain that because the justice minister can access foreign residents’ personal information with residence (“zairyu”) card numbers, which are to be given to every documented foreigner, it is an infringement of privacy. [Immigration Bureau General Affairs Division official Kazuyuki] Motohari defended the bureau by saying, “It is not unusual for us to hold information that helps us confirm the identify of foreign residents.”

The bills stipulate that the justice minister must not use residents’ personal information for purposes other than “managing” foreign residents and must handle the information in a way that does not violate privacy.

He also said it is essential to let foreigners know the rule changes, including advantages such as extending visa duration from three to five years and ending the requirement to obtain a re-entry permit if one returns to Japan within a year.

“It will undoubtedly be more convenient for legal residents,” he said.

The bureau’s statistics show 1.41 million foreign residents re-entered Japan within a year in 2007, accounting for 98.7 percent of the 1.43 million who left Japan after obtaining a re-entry permit.

The Immigration Bureau is considering enabling foreign residents to report changes in workplace and apply for renewal of residence cards via mail or the Internet instead of requiring them to go to local immigration offices, he said.

Currently, renewing alien registration cards, which are to be replaced by zairyu cards, and reporting changes in personal information can be done at municipal offices, more of which exist than immigration offices.

For address changes, residents can go to municipal offices even under the new system. For changes in name, gender and nationality, they will have to go to immigration offices instead of municipal offices, but such changes rarely occur.