Lower House panel takes up contentious immigration bill

A Lower House panel Friday began deliberating a controversial bill that would revise the immigration law by strengthening state control over foreigners and illegal entry by shifting responsibility for alien registration to the central government from municipalities and increasing penalties for violators.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc is trying to get the bill passed before the Diet closes for the summer on June 3. But passage is uncertain because many opposition lawmakers and human rights groups have harshly criticized the amendments, saying they could lead to undue surveillance of foreign residents.

Japan uses a dual administrative structure to control immigration. The Justice Ministry handles immigration control and the granting of residency permits, while the municipal governments are in charge of issuing alien registration cards. The ministry estimates that about 20,000 cards have been issued to illegal stayers.

The bill would give control of alien registration to the Justice Ministry, which is thinking of abolishing alien cards and creating a new type of ID called a “zairyu” (residency) card to document foreigners intending to live here for more than three months.

Zairyu cards would list an individual’s name, photo, nationality and visa information, and foreigners would be obliged to “have the cards with them at all times,” the bill stipulates. Violators would be fined up to ¥200,000 for not carrying the card or incarcerated for as long as 10 years if caught forging them.

Critics and opposition legislators have panned the proposed penalties.

The bill would also extend the maximum period of stay for documented foreigners to five years from three.