TT-456 -- Tightening up on foreigners, ebiz news from Japan

Subject: Terrie's Take 456 -- Tightening up on foreigners, ebiz news from Japan
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A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd.

General Edition Sunday, February 10, 2008 Issue No. 456


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We have been through Narita immigration 3 times now since
the November 20th, 2007, implementation of taking
fingerprints and facial images. Prior to the changes, many
foreign residents were concerned about being forced to
separate with their Japanese spouses and kids and having to
join the tourist lines, thus enduring a blow-out on waiting
times at immigration while the family waited at the other
side. In the past, permanent residents could slip through
in the Japanese-only lines, in just 10-20 minutes.

After the implementation date started to loom and enough
people became concerned, a number of foreign chambers of
commerce got involved and made submissions to the Justice
Ministry to ensure that the changes wouldn't be detrimental
to international commerce (a great platform to argue from).
At the eleventh hour, the Ministry decided that there
should be a separate purpose-made Permanent Resident line,
so as to allow foreign permanent residents traveling
frequently to China and elsewhere an easy passage in and
out of Japan. It is no secret that despite the costs, some
foreign multinationals prefer to have their senior
management for the region reside in Japan. This proved an
important point of leverage in getting the initial
arrangements changed.

As a result, the reality is that now Permanent Residents (PR)
wait even less time than Japanese nationals to get through
immigration, and sometimes there are only 2-3 people queued
at the PR line for an entire airplane arrival. It's embarrassing to
see the number angry or puzzled looks from Japanese herded
into half the number of lines they once had, while the PRs
waltz through.

Even the foreign tourist lines are a lot shorter than they
once were, so we don't think the Immigration folks will
maintain such one-sided preference for foreign visitors for long
-- but it's nice while it lasts. Perhaps more importantly,
the presence of this special line (actually there are now
two) proves that the Justice Ministry does in fact listen
to the foreign business organizations.

And that's probably just as well, because there appears to
be a clear intention by the government to start tightening
up controls on foreigners living in Japan. Foreign chambers
of commerce need to start looking at these measures
before they become committed to law later this year.

[Continued below...]

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[...Article continues]

Over the last 2 years, there have been a number of
legislatory submissions and trial PR balloons floated that
indicate that the government is intending to significantly
increase its control over foreigners living here. Given
that many other countries also impose strict tracking and
controls on foreign residents who are not migrants, this
wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing providing that
there was some upside offered such as by those other
countries. In particular, Japan needs to make laws and
apply the proper enforcement of UN human rights to
foreign residents. Rights such as anti-discrimination,
right to impartial justice, fair treatment of refugees,
proper criminalization of human trafficking, and rights of
children are all severely lacking. But these unfortunately
don't seem to be part of the agenda at this time.

The latest round of controls was initiated by the Justice
Ministry at the end of January, and was subsequently
reported on by the Japan Times,
The Ministry has submitted legislation to the Diet for
approval this year that will scrap the Alien Registration
system and replace it with a pseudo Family Register
modeled on the Japanese one. The idea is that the current
system tracks people as individuals, and so as their
circumstances change and they get married and have kids,
it is not obvious to the local authorities that these
changes have occurred.

Commentary in the Japanese press seems to indicate that a
driver for this change was the many Brazilian kids of
Japanese-Brazilian families living in Gunma who don't
attend local schools and/or whose parents would move
frequently and thus the kids were not at the schools the
local authorities expected them to be at -- thus causing
the local government guys to embark on frequent goose
chases to find out where they moved to. A Family Register
would clearly alleviate this problem.

One thing to note about this proposed legislation is that
the collection and distribution of data on all foreign
residents in the future will become the job of the Justice
Ministry, not that of the various local governments all
over Japan. Centralization of the data would be achieved by
collecting information from returning foreign residents at
airports and/or at immigration offices, and would be
keyed into central servers, as well as being encoded in to
IC cards issued in replacement of the current Alien
Registration card.

In and of itself, the idea of creating family registers for
mid- and long-term residents in Japan is not such a bad
idea. Yes, it would require that foreigners be more
conscientious about registering changes of address and
personal circumstance, but this would be no more onerous
than for any of our Japanese colleagues. However, when you
start looking at the change in context with some other recent
Justice Ministry (and other Ministries) announcements, one
wonders if there isn't a larger agenda at work?

For example, take the January 2007 announcement, reported
in the Nikkei, that the children of long-term foreign
residents will be required in the future to attend local
Japanese schools rather than English-speaking International
ones, as the the current grey zone situation allows. Or the
October implementation of compulsory employer reporting of
foreign workers -- which effectively makes employers the
decision-makers on whether someone is working legally or

And the real kicker in December where a minister suggested
that long-term residents will be given a Japanese
language test before their visas are renewed. This point has
got a lot of long-term Western foreign residents worried,
because until now it has been perfectly feasible for someone
to work for decades within the foreign community and never
really become fluent in the language. Then of course,
there are all the 3- to 5-year foreign CEOs appointed to
manage their companies' operations in Japan. What becomes
of them and their families? We will find out when the Justice
Ministry makes its final recommendations in the next month
or so.

The message coming from the Justice Ministry is that they
want to gain direct control over foreign residents in Japan
and that they want people to be properly assimilated into
society, by ensuring adequate language capabilities and
their children attending regular local schools. At the same
time, the number of foreign residents has been increasing
at a steady rate, and so the controls don't seem to be part
of a general xenophobic trend (at least, no worse than it is
at present) in government policy. Even after the highly
publicized 2003 murder of a family by Chinese students,
although the following year the number of students dropped
by 20%, now in 2008 the total number is rising again, and
will soon exceed 100,000.

Indeed, stepping back from the immediate, "What is Hatoyama
and his Justice pals up to?" many of these announcements
and new rules sound more like they are part of a larger
plan to prepare for a large future influx of foreign
residents. We speculated on this fact back at the beginning
of 2007, but now it is much more obvious that this is the
case. We all know that it is inevitable that the number of
foreigners will increase, since not only will the nation's
factories need another 4m people in the next 10 years, but
rest homes for the aged will need another 500,000
able-bodied, low-cost employees as early as 2014.

Most likely the reason the government hasn't said publicly
that they are in fact preparing the ground for a lot more
foreign workers is that as polls have shown, many Japanese
voters are still xenophobic, with up to 60% saying that
they blame foreigners for a rise in crime, for example. So,
instead, these new foreigner control law reforms are being
carried out under the guise of "anti-terrorism" or
"anti-crime," which plays well to conservative voters.

So if there is a master plan, what other changes should we
be expecting as foreigners living in Japan? Our guess is
that the biggest change will simply be the absolute loss
of privacy. Every foreign resident will be carefully checked
on whether they are contributing to the social insurance
program and paying their taxes. Those not complying will
probably loose their residency rights -- and we imagine
that there will be few avenues of appeal where
an administration mistake has been made. You only need
to look at the process and meager results for refugee
status appeals to see what the outcome is likely to be.

There will also be substantial increase in governmental
department sharing of foreign resident data. A police check
of all foreign fingerprints will become standard practice
for all unsolved crimes. Even minor infractions of the law
(fines, etc.) will become factors in evaluating continued
residence, or for refusal of entry at Immigration. Less
obvious will be the likely mis-use of the database for
private purposes. Already private detective agencies use
senior ex-police to gain inside information on individuals
they are checking out (we know because we were offered to
subscribe to just such a service several years ago). With
the new centralized database, this will become a lot easier
to do.

Then there is the issue of education of one's children.
This is a thorny issue, and probably one that will be met
with significant response from the foreign community. Our
guess is that this aspect of the integration program
(pogrom?) will take much longer, and will require the
Ministry of Education to agree to create a special category
of state support for schools that don't meet its
curriculum, providing they do at least offer sufficient
Japanese language exposure.

There will probably be several new visa categories. One
that industry obviously wants is something that lets them
bring low-cost workers in and prevents those people
from using the constitutional right of freedom to work
to skip off to a better paying job. Until now, the Trainee
category filled that role, but industry needs something
that will keep people here longer than 2-3 years. An
appropriate nickname for the document will be the
"slavery visa".

Lastly, there is the even thornier question of what to do
about expats. Our guess is that any new legislation passed
will create a set of exemptions for those who are
legitimate expat appointees in Japan. This mechanism
already exists in other countries. In Australia, for
example, those working on a 457 visa (Temporary Long Stay
Business work visa) and earning over AUD75,000 a year can
be exempt from the English language requirements normally

This would conveniently provide Japan with an all-important
loophole to deal with tough cases, and at the same time
allow those foreign residents wanting to continue sending
their kids to international schools to do so. Our guess is
that this will be tacitly accepted so long as those on
higher salaries keep contributing to the social insurance

...The information janitors/


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+++ NEWS

- National wealth increases
- M&As increases bank lending
- Whaling confrontation becoming PR disaster
- Namco hit by Wii success
- Russians test Japan fighter response

-> National wealth increases

Cabinet Office figures show that Japan's net wealth rose
2.9% from 2005 to 2006, to JPY2.71Qrn (US$25trn), for the
first time since 1990. Most of the increase came from
rises in land valuations and stock prices. ***Ed: While
this number went up in 2006, it is important to remember
that this is a net figure, and that the average family has
in fact been decreasing over the last couple of years.
Furthermore, the stock market plunge at the end of last
year and the start of 2008, may well have wiped out a
significant portion of any gains made.** (Source: TT
commentary from, Feb 9, 2008)

-> M&As increases bank lending

It appears that M&As are indeed catching on, and bank
lending grew 0.5% January (y-o-y) to JPY392.78trn, due to
the increased demand for funds by companies engaged in
buy-outs. Initially the expectation was that bank lending
would fall due to the dramatic slow-down in commercial
real estate starts, but this hasn't been the case so far.
(Source: TT commentary from, Feb 8, 2008)

-> Whaling confrontation becoming PR disaster

Photos taken and released to the media by the Australian
government have angered Japanese MAF officials and created
a source of growing friction between the two nations,
although in public both are saying that they will get past
it. The photos were of a mother minke whale and its calf
being dragged aboard a Japanese whaling ship after being
harpooned. The Australians say that the images will be
used as evidence in international court action against
Japan, where they will try to stop Japan from whaling in
the Southern Ocean whaling sanctuary. ***Ed: The reality
is that the Australian government has a LOT MORE leverage
on this issue than it probably realizes. At the end of the
day, the Japanese care more about reliable iron ore and LNG
shipments much more than a few whales that few citizens
want to eat anyway. We hope that Australia stands firm on
this and ejects the ships from the sanctuary, either by
legal means or trade pressure.** (Source: TT commentary
from, Feb 9, 2008)

-> Namco hit by Wii success

Little things can have big effects, as has been the case
with Nintendo's extremely popular Wii game controller. It
appears that with a Wii at home, kids are no longer
interested in traveling out to game centers, and thus
arcade operator Namco Bandai has made a shock 38% decrease
in its earnings outlook. Namco says it will close 50 to 60
arcades nationally, about 20% of its total inventory. This
announcement comes not long after Sega Sammy said it would
also close about 100 arcades around the nation. (Source:
TT commentary from, Feb 7, 2008)

-> Russians test Japan fighter response

As if to remind the Japanese public why they should be
supporting and not fighting the subsidization of the US
forces move from Okinawa to Saipan, the Russians have
decided to test the response times of the nation's
South-Eastern border security. Apparently a Russian bomber
entered Japanese airspace 650km south of Tokyo around
07:30am Saturday morning for 3 minutes, triggering the
scrambling of 24 fighter jets in response. (Source: TT
commentary from, Feb 9, 2008)

NOTE: Broken links
Many online news sources remove their articles after just a
few days of posting them, thus breaking our links -- we
apologize for the inconvenience.


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