Immigration showing signs of ninjo

[The recently released Harrison Ford film] “Crossing Over” is made up of a series of small but interconnected human dramas. It focuses on what the Japanese call ninj?, meaning “heart” or “humanity.” This is clear from the accompanying Japanese pamphlet, which proclaims, “Even (immigration) inspectors have ninj?.”

In recent years, this “foreign crime” (gaikokujin hanzai) discourse has become so widely promulgated by the media that it has come to drive policy, specifically the targeting of foreigners by the police and immigration inspectors. Thus, 2003 saw the implementation of a five-year plan to half the number of illegals known as the Kyodo Sengen. The resulting increase in arrests can be used as “proof” that non-Japanese are more likely to commit crime: In this way, the image, to some extent, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Recent changes to the Immigration Control and Refugee Law — to be implemented within the next three years — give little hope that the system will become less bureaucratic and more human. While there are some provisions — such as permit-free re-entry — that will make life easier for legal residents, failure to report a change of address or other personal details within three months will lead to revocation of residence status. For “illegal” residents, the revisions, which at root are about increased central government scrutiny and monitoring of non-Japanese, will inevitably result in more deportations.

There are some signs [Japan’s bureaucratic immigration system] might be changing. One sign of bureaucratic softening relates to naturalization, which in recent years has become a much more straightforward process. In 2008, for example, 15,440 applied for Japanese citizenship and 13,218 were accepted. These figures would inevitably increase if Japan were to recognize dual nationality; many permanent residents, this author included, would welcome the opportunity to contribute more fully to Japanese society if they didn’t first have to give up their original citizenship. Given Japan’s growing need for jinzai (human resources) in order to remain internationally competitive, it is no surprise that more and more politicians are calling for the Nationality Law to be revised.

In 2004, the justice minister announced a more flexible and “humanitarian” stance toward over-stayers. Specifically, the minister said he would apply more discretion in granting special resident status (zairyutokubetsukyoka) in cases where deportation would result in hardships, such as the breakup of families. The Immigration Bureau’s home page explains how “worried illegal migrants” who appear at their local immigration office and fill out the relevant forms (shutto shinkoku) will be allowed to “go home” without first being detained and may even, in special circumstances, be given leave to remain in Japan (see ).