While I'm on the subject of immigration, the Lower House passed a bill on new residency rules last Friday.
The big changes:
There are definitely some good things in here, such as longer visa extensions and dropping the requirement for re-entry permits, but I can't help but think that the negatives outweigh any changes for the better.
It's going to be a pain in the ass to have to go the nearest (which could be really far away if you don't live in a large city) Immigration Bureau to report that you've changed jobs. Debito suggested in a recent podcast that employers would not be receptive to foreigner employees taking time off to update their personal information, but I think that's unrealistic. In my experience, employers aren't that hard-nosed and I suspect that they would understand that this has to do with one's ability to reside in Japan. On the other hand, foreign employees will probably end up having to use paid holidays to go about this business.
Then there's the matter of being listed in Juki Net. The system is unpopular with the public due to fears over invasion of privacy and data leaks. The constitutionality of the system was challenged by a group of Aichi residents, but the Nagoya High Court ruled in 2007 that Juki Net was constitutional. Still, there are reasons to be suspicious of how personal information will be used, stored, and protected as the safeguards in place are incredibly flimsy:
The bills also have a provision to prevent the ministry from using that data improperly, a decision that was made to ward off criticism that "the minister" could abuse the zairyu card number to violate foreigners' privacy. But no penalty for such abuse was listed.
The practice, dubbed data-matching, was outlawed by the Supreme Court in regard to its use on Japanese citizens.
The provision says "the justice minister" must limit the use of foreign residents' personal information to the minimum required for managing such residents and that the information must be handled with care to protect the rights of individuals. But no penalties or methods for enforcing such compliance are listed in the bills.
Provisions to prevent abuse of data but without penalties? This is a joke.
Perhaps the most worrisome change has to do with punishment for failing to update one's information:
On the other hand, the Immigration Bureau will tighten control of foreign residents by stripping away their residential status if they fail to report changes in address, marital status or workplace within three months. No regulations for that exist under current law.
In addition, those who fail to report such changes within 14 days or are found not carrying their zairyu cards could be hit with a ¥200,000 fine, the same regulation as the current law.
To crack down on fake marriages, the bills allow the justice minister to cancel the residential status of foreigners holding spouse visas who have not conducted "normal spousal activities," such as living together, for six months without legitimate reason. Legitimate reasons include things like domestic violence, Hosokawa said.
These are very severe punishments. In my case, I wonder what would have happened to me had this law already been in place. When I renewed my visa three years ago, I neglected to inform city hall. It's an easy thing to forget. How often does one look at their alien registration card let alone remember that you have to go to city hall and inform them? If you've been in Japan for more than a few years, it's easy to forget. For all city hall new, I was in the country illegally. The matter only recently came to my attention when my town was handing out the ¥12,000 Taro Aso kickback. I received the application form plus a letter asking me to visit them and confirm my residency status. My visa status? I renewed that years ago. It was only when I looked at my alien registration card that I realized the problem. I quickly cleared things up and the people at city hall were very understanding, but had this new law been in effect, I would have been dealing with the Immigration Bureau and it's unlikely they would have left the matter unresolved for two and half years or be very sympathetic. At best, I may have been fined, at worst, deported.
The new law now criminalizes my forgetfulness. When you consider that police can detain suspects for up to three weeks without charges and regularly stop foreigners they catch riding bicycles, it seems to me that the authorities have added extra pretense to stop foreigners and check to make sure their papers are in order. We're told that the changes are supposed to bring more conveniences to legal foreign residents, but obeying the law won't insulate you from police harassment and scrutiny over your residency status should the provisions in the new law be strictly enforced.
Update: Table of changes from the JT article.