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Summary

Foreign nationals who receive landing permission are required to engage in activities pursuant to their status of residence.  In order to work, a foreigner must have an appropriate status of residence.  The points-based system provides highly skilled foreign professionals with preferential immigration treatment.

An illegal immigrant may be able to stay in Japan legally only if he or she obtains special permission from the Minister of Justice. 

The Japanese Nationality Law is based on lineage.  A foreigner may acquire Japanese nationality by naturalization.  If a foreigner has certain ties with Japan, he or she is exempted from some of the requirements.

Because Japan is surrounded by the sea, border security means security of the coasts.  The Japan Coast Guard is in charge of crimes on the sea, including smuggling and illegal immigration. 

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Overview

Foreigners wishing to enter Japan are, in principle, required to have a valid passport issued by the government of their own country along with a visa issued by the Japanese embassy or consulate.[1]  Japan has seven visa categories: transit, temporary visitor, working, general, specified official, and diplomatic.[2]  At an airport or seaport, immigration officers check whether or not the foreign national wishing to enter Japan meets the requirements for entering the country.[3]  If the requirements are met, the immigration officer grants the foreigner landing permission, which is stamped on his or her passport.[4]  The landing permission shows the status of residence of the foreigner. 

Foreign nationals who receive landing permission are required to engage in activities pursuant to their status of residence.[5]  There are twenty-seven statuses of residence,[6] sixteen of which are for employment of foreigners.  Some other statuses of residence also allow employment, such as trainee and permanent resident status.  The points-based system provides highly skilled foreign professionals with preferential immigration treatment.[7]  Such foreigners include researchers who engage in academic research activities, persons who engage in advanced specialized or technical activities, and persons who engage in business management activities.[8] 

For low-skilled foreigners, there is a “technical intern training” status of residence, though it is not the intention of the law to accept low-skilled workers.  The purpose of creating this status was to transfer technical skills to the country where the interns and trainees come from.[9]  An institution that provides training to foreigners can employ them for up to two years after the training.[10]  The regulations were recently tightened due to the system being used by some enterprises to acquire cheap labor and some foreign workers being exploited.[11]

Foreigners who are second- and third-generation descendents of Japanese emigrants, the so-called nisei and sansei, can stay and work without restriction in Japan under the status of residence for long-term residents.[12]  Many of these people are from South American countries, such as Brazil and Peru.  The term of this status of residence is for up to five years.[13]  Since April 2006, to obtain or renew this status of residence, a criminal record issued from the police authority in the country they come from is required.[14]

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) issues a resident card to foreign nationals residing legally in Japan for the mid- to long-term with resident status.  The card contains a portrait photo of the individual as well as his or her name and basic personal information, resident status, and period of permitted stay.[15]  When foreign residents wish to change their status of residence after entry or to extend their period of stay, or to obtain permission to engage in activities other than those permitted under the previously granted status of residence, they are required to submit applications for such changes to the regional immigration bureau nearest to their residence in Japan and obtain approval.[16]

In addition to criminal prosecution for those who violate the Immigration Control Law,[17] there is a system to deport illegal aliens or order them to depart from Japan.  An immigration control officer may conduct an investigation for deportation.[18]  The deportation may be forced upon aliens who, among other things, have committed illegal entry, document fraud, or overstay.[19]  An immigration inspector may, instead of deporting them, issue a departure order to illegally staying foreigners who have satisfied all of the following conditions:

  • they have made a voluntary appearance at an immigration office with the intention of departing from Japan promptly;
  • they have never committed a specified crime in Japan;
  • they have never been deported or received a departure order; and
  • they have proved the certainty of their prompt departure from Japan.[20]

Such foreigners must depart from Japan within fifteen days.[21] 

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Changing Illegal Immigrant Status

An illegal immigrant may be able to stay in Japan legally only if he or she obtains special permission from the Minister of Justice.  Under the Immigration Control Law, the Minister of Justice is authorized to grant special permission to stay to an illegal immigrant.[22]  Article 50, paragraph 1 of the Law states:

The Minister of Justice may . . . grant the suspect special permission to stay in Japan if the suspect falls under any of the following items:

(i)  He or she has obtained permission for permanent residence.

(ii)  He or she has had in the past a registered domicile in Japan as a Japanese national.

(iii)  He or she resides in Japan under the control of another as a result of trafficking in persons.

(iv)  The Minister of Justice finds grounds for granting special permission to stay, other than the previous items.

This decision is made individually with respect to each case based on comprehensive consideration of various factors, including the reason for stay, family conditions in Japan, the person’s conduct, the person’s current situation both at home and abroad, the need for humanitarian considerations, and the impact on other illegal residents.[23]  To enhance the transparency and predictability of special permission to stay, the Immigration Bureau released the “Guidelines on Special Permission to Stay in Japan.”[24]  It lists the positive and negative factors taken into account, in addition to items (i) to (iii) above, which are positive elements.  For example, if the person has a Japanese parent, child, or spouse, this is considered a positive element.[25] 

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Citizenship Pathways and Requirements

The Japanese Nationality Law is based on lineage.  A child whose father or mother is a Japanese national at the time of his or her birth acquires Japanese nationality.[26]  A person who is not a Japanese national (foreigner) may acquire Japanese nationality by naturalization.[27]  In general, the following conditions are required for naturalization:

A foreigner must

  1. have been domiciled in Japan for five years or more consecutively;
  2. be twenty years old or older and of full capacity to act according to the law of his or her home country;

  3. be of upright conduct;
  4. be able to secure a livelihood by his or her own property or ability, or those of his or her spouse or other relatives with whom he or she lives on common living expenses;
  5. lose other nationalities, if he or she has any, by the acquisition of Japanese nationality; and
  6. have never plotted, advocated, or been involved with a political party or other organization that has plotted or advocated the overthrow of the Constitution of Japan or the Japanese government.[28] 

A foreigner may be exempted from one or several items if other conditions are met.  If a foreigner has a Japanese spouse or another family relation in Japan, the requirements for naturalization are relaxed.

A foreigner who is presently domiciled in Japan may be exempted from Item 1 if any one of the following apply:

The foreigner

a.   has had a domicile or residence in Japan for three consecutive years or more and is the child of a person who was a Japanese national (excluding a child by adoption);

b.   was born in Japan and has had a domicile or residence in Japan for three consecutive years or more, or his or her father or mother (excluding father and mother by adoption) was born in Japan; and

c.   has had a residence in Japan for ten consecutive years or more.[29]

A foreigner may be exempted from Items 1 and 2 if he or she

a.   has a Japanese spouse, has had a domicile or residence in Japan for three consecutive years or more, and is presently domiciled in Japan; or

b.   has been married to a Japanese spouse for three years or more and has had a domicile in Japan for one consecutive year or more.[30]

A foreigner may be exempted from Items 1, 2, and 4 if he or she

a.   is a child (excluding a child by adoption) of a Japanese national and has a domicile in Japan;

b.   is a child by adoption of a Japanese national and has had a domicile in Japan for one consecutive year or more, and was a minor according to the law of his or her native country at the time of the adoption;

c.   has lost Japanese nationality by birth (not obtained by naturalization) and has a domicile in Japan; or

d.   was born in Japan and has had no nationality since the time of birth, and has had a domicile in Japan for three consecutive years or more since then.[31]

Foreigners may be exempted from Item 5 if they cannot deprive themselves of their current nationality because their current country of nationality does not allow it.[32]  Dual nationality is not permitted in Japan unless the person is a minor who obtained another nationality at the time of birth.[33]

Regarding foreigners who have rendered especially meritorious service to Japan, the Minister of Justice may permit their naturalization with the approval of the Diet, without considering general requirements.[34]

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Mechanisms for Border Management and Security

Since Japan is surrounded by the sea, border security means security of the coasts.  The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) is in charge of crimes on the sea,[35] including smuggling and illegal immigration.  Japanese organized crime groups and international crime syndicates are often involved in such activities.  “To halt such crimes at the water’s edge, the JCG is working together with the relevant organizations in Japan and overseas and conducts enforcement operations.”[36]  At international harbors, the JCG conducts on-the-spot inspections of incoming vessels.[37] 

The Coast Guard arrested many foreigners in the 1990s who illegally tried to land in Japan in large groups by coming ashore or hiding in containers.[38]  Illegal immigrants from the sea come mainly from China.  Nowadays, illegal immigrants come to Japan by hiding in secret rooms in cargo vessels or on Korean fishing vessels to which they transferred from Chinese vessels on the sea near Korea.[39] 

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Sayuri Umeda
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2013

 

[1] Visa System in Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/ system/ index.html (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).

[2] FAQ on Japanese Visa, Embassy of Japan in the United States of America, http://www.us.emb-japan.go. jp/english/html/travel_and_visa/visa/faq_new.htm (last visited Feb. 28, 2013).

[3] Shutsunyūgoku kanri oyobi nan’min nintei hō [Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law] (Immigration Control Law), Order no. 319 of 1951, last amended by Law No. 79 of 2009, art. 7.

[4] Id. art. 9.

[5] Id. art. 2-2.

[6] Id. art. 2-2 and Annexed Tables 1 & 2.  English translation of statuses is available on the website for foreign students managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/toj/toj04e_01.html (last visited Feb. 20, 2013).

[7] Points-Based Preferential Immigration Treatment for Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals, Immigration Bureau of Japan, Ministry of Justice (MOJ), http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/newimmiact_3/en/ index.html (last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

[8] Points-Based System That Provides Highly Skilled Foreign Professionals with Preferential Immigration Treatment, Immigration Bureau, MOJ (Dec. 2011), http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/newimmiact_3/en/pdf/01_e.pdf.

[9] Aratana kenshū ginō jisshu seido ni kakaru Q&A [Q&A Regarding New Trainee and Technical Intern Training Systems], MOJ, Q 1-2, http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyuukokukanri 07_00011.html, (last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

[10] Immigration Control Law, art. 21.  Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law Enforcement Ordinance, MOJ Ordinance No. 55 of 1981, last amended by MOJ Ordinance No. 40 of 2012, art. 3 and Annexed Table 2.

[11] Gno jisshusei no nyukoku zairyu kanri ni kansuru shishin [Guidelines on Acceptance and Management of Technical Interns’ Stays] (as amended in November 2012), Immigration Bureau, MOJ, http://www.moj.go.jp/con tent/000102863.pdf. .

[12] Shutsunyūgoku kanri oyobi nan’min nintei hō dai 7 jō dai 1 kou dai 2 gō no kitei ni motoduki dōhō beppyō dai ni no teijūsha no kō no karan ni kakageru chii o sadameru ken [Regarding Status of Long-Term Residents in Annexed Table of Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law Under article 7, paragraph 1, item 2 of the Law], MOJ Notice No. 132 of 1990, last amended by MOJ Notification No. 37 of 2010.

[13] Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law Enforcement Ordinance, MOJ Ordinance No. 55 of 1981, last amended by MOJ Ordinance No. 40 of 2012, art. 3 and Annexed Table 2.

[14] Zairyū shikaku “teijūsha” de nyūgoku/ zairyū suru nikkeijin no kata no nyūkan tetuduki ni tsuite [Concerning Immigration Procedure for Japanese Descendants Who Enter or Stay in Japan Under the Status of Residence for “Long-Term Residents”], MOJ, http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/keiziban/happyou/nikkei.html (last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

[15] Immigration Control Law art. 19-3.

[16] Id. arts. 20 & 21

[17] Id. art. 70.

[18] Id. art. 27.

[19] Id. art. 24.

[20] Id. art. 24-3.

[21] Id. art. 55-3.

[22] Id. art. 50.

[23] Immigration Bureau, MOJ, Japan, 2011 Immigration Control 100 (2011) http://www.moj.go.jp/content/ 000081970.pdf.

[24] Guidelines on Special Permission to Stay in Japan, Immigration Bureau, MOJ (October 2006, revised July 2009), http://www.moj.go.jp/content/000048156.pdf.

[25] Id. at 1.

[26] Kokuseki hō [Nationality Law], Law No.147 of 1950, last amended by Law No. 88 of 2008, art. 2.

[27] Id. art. 4.

[28] Id. art. 5, para. 1.

[29] Id. art. 6.

[30] Id. art. 7.

[32] Id. art. 5, para. 2.

[33] Id. arts 11 & 12.

[34] Id. art. 9.

[35] Kaijō hoan chō hō [Coast Guard Agency Law], Law No. 28 of 1948, last amended by Law No. 71 of 2012 , art. 2, para. 1.

[36] Japan Coast Guard, JCG, at 10, http://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/e/pamphlet.pdf (last visited Feb. 19, 2013). 

[37] Security of International Ships and of International Port Facilities Act, Law No. 31 of 2004, art. 45.

[38] Heisei 17-nen no kaijō hanzai torishimari jōkyō [Status of Crimes on the Sea in 2005], Japan Coast Guard, 14 (Feb. 22, 2006), available at http://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/info/kouhou/h18/k20060222/h17-tori shimari.pdf

[39] Fuhō nyukoku jihan no torishimari kyōka [Enhanced Enforcement of Illegal Entry Cases], JCG, http://www. kaiho.mlit.go.jp/shisaku/mikkou.htm (last visited Feb. 19, 2013).

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Last Updated: 02/28/2014