On July 9, foreign residents will come under a new system of tracking by the Japanese government. Certificates of Alien Registration (gaijin cards) will be replaced by new Resident Cards, and the names of foreign residents will be listed with Japanese on a National Residence Registry. Re-entry permits will also be eliminated while most long-term visas will be extended. The Journal explains what the new system will mean for long-term residents.
Foreign residents in Japan, say goodbye to your gaijin cards. At least down the road. Starting next month, the immigration system is changing, and the changes will not only affect the types of identification cards you must carry, but also where you register with the government.
As of July 9, under a new system first proposed three years ago, mid-to-long-term non-Japanese will be issued a Resident Card. The new ID will look similar to the gaijin card, but will contain an “IC chip” containing information about the cardholder. The government maintains it is an effort to prevent forgery. New arrivals to Japan will be issued the cards at the airport, while people already here will get them at their local Immigration Office – either when their current card expires or before July 8, 2015. Picking up the new IDs from Immigration rather than a local ward or city office is also a change as the Ministry of Justice takes over responsibility for tracking non-Japanese residents.
Changes to your name or nationality (the official announcement also adds “changes to date of birth or gender”), children reaching 16 years of age, or renewals of the card will also have to be made at the Immigration Office within 14 days. This will require a new photo and your passport because a new card will be issued – it is no longer a simple update to the card.
If you change your employer or marital status upon the death or divorce of a Japanese spouse, you can make these in person or by mail to the Tokyo Immigration Office. In that case, only a Resident Card (or a copy if the change is being made by mail) is needed.
Simple changes of address can still be registered at the local ward/city office and then sent to the Ministry of Justice.
Like the old gaijin cards, the new IDs must be carried by foreign residents at all times. Failure to provide your ID when questioned by authorities will result in stiff fines.
WHAT THE CHANGES MIGHT MEAN
Although many things appear basically the same, the “fine print” element of the new process is that foreign residents will be entered into the Basic Resident Registration System ( juminhyo). This will place Japanese and non-Japanese living in the same house onto the same index card, or its electronic equivalent. Whether this is a move designed to simplify efforts to handle a possible future flood of non-Japanese immigrants it is impossible to say; but it certainly makes it easier for the government to track the foreign population and watch out for illegal residents. These people will not be allowed to obtain a Resident Card, another difference with the current system.
One possible benefit of a central registry of all inhabitants might come in the event of a major disaster; it would certainly be easier to check lists and search for survivors. It also places foreign residents on a level with the Japanese in regards to the registration of official stamps and in obtaining certificates of residence (as opposed to the former “certificates for description of an alien registration card”).
The new system will also see an extension of most types of resident visas from three to five years. Spouses and children of Japanese nationals—or of permanent residents—will have the option of a five-year visa or a six-month option at the other end.
For students, there are new periods covering entire three or four-year courses (optionally with a little time at either end), as well as the existing one and two-year visas. A three-month option will also be available for students studying short-term.
COMING BACK AGAIN
Most non-Japanese express frustration at the “re-entry permit” system, described by some as an “extortion racket” or “tax grab” aimed at foreign residents who temporarily leave Japan. Though the maximum period of validity has been extended from one to three years, the re-entry permits often topped the list of the “Worst Things About Living In Japan.”
Now, they will be gone.
Starting next month, anyone leaving Japan for less than a year will no longer need a reentry permit. A special re-entry system will apply. But there are a few exceptions to this rule. Anyone who stays out of Japan for a year or more loses automatic re-entry because they also lose their resident status. Also, anyone in the process of being deported or judged to be a threat to public order will fall through the cracks. For the majority of foreign residents in Japan, though, the changes to the re-entry system will come as a relief. A traveler needs only to present their Resident Card, proof in their passport that a Resident Card has been applied for, or their old gaijin card at the airport and they’re in (providing they pass through customs and have filled out an embarkation form).
GAIJIN CARD AS A RESIDENCE CARD
For permanent residents, you don’t need to rush to the Immigration Office immediately to get your new Resident Permit. Your old gaijin card will stand in place of the new Resident Card until July 8, 2015. After that, you must get a new ID. For those whose visa status lasts for five years, you are also fine with your gaijin card until the date above. As for others, you will have to pick up your new permit when your visa expires.
RULES FOR EMPLOYERS
The immigration ID system will also mean changes for people who employ or host mid-to-long-term foreign nationals. When hiring or firing foreign residents, companies and organizations must visit the regional immigration office to inform officials of the changes, or they must send a notification to the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau within 14 days. A few specialized categories such as “Artists”, “Religious Activities”, “Journalists” and “Technical Intern Training” are exempt.
Similar rules apply to universities and other educational institutions hosting foreign students; the immigration department must be notified when a student’s hosting begins or ends (graduation, etc.). Schools must also submit a list of foreign students twice a year, within 14 days of May 1 and November 1 each year.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
Though the new immigration card and re-entry system changes will make it easier for many people, there are some exceptions. Illegal residents who can currently be registered and made legal will find this impossible under the new system. Illegal residents are obviously urged to “get legal” before the new system takes effect.
Additionally, falsification of status or failure to report one’s place of residence can lead to loss of residency status. There are exceptions – those involved in child custody fights or divorce cases are counted as having “justifiable reasons” for not having “engaged in activities as a spouse” for more than six months. Likewise, there are exceptions made for bankruptcy and illness regarding the failure to report changes in residence. Tampering with or forging the new cards can also result in deportation, as can conviction with a sentence of imprisonment with labor.
Ultimately, the new ID system might end up being easier for everyone including residents, students and employers. Not having to renew a visa every three years will simplify things, and avoiding the costs and hassles of re-entry permits will save time and money. Only time will tell whether the additional tracking by the government will have positive or negative consequences…