A month-long campaign was launched on Monday by a group of visa overstayers, in which they will ask 36 local assemblies in the Kanto region to be given special permission to remain in the country.

Thirty-five undocumented immigrants from eight nationalities, including Filipinos, Iranians and Peruvians, are working together with the nonprofit organization Asian People’s Friendship Society to legalize the stay of immigrants that have long resided in Japan.

The normalization of undocumented foreigners married to Japanese spouses was recognized back in the 1980s. This turned the attention to families with foreign-born parents but children that were born in Japan. Although some families have gained the Special Permit for Residence since the end of the 90s, the struggle continues until the Minister of Justice allows restrictions to be loosened. It is becoming increasingly urgent to take action as “foreign” children, even those born and raised in Japan, do not have legitimate legal status and are unable to work, claim health insurance or even travel outside the prefecture in which they reside without permission from immigration officials.

The campaign comes at a time when the government is hoping to call for more foreign workers by expanding its criticized foreign trainee program, to combat a critical shortage of manpower in the construction industry. Especially with the 2020 Olympics coming up, and the workforce in construction having contracted by a third since its peak in 1997, the need for young, able workers is at an all-time high. The trainee program was established to balance out the anxiety of the Japanese public of having many immigrants in their country with the need to address a workforce shortage. The program offers “trainees” work for up to three years, with an allowance of an additional 2–3 years as regular laborers. The question is what happens to these workers after their time limit. They can work themselves up to a good position, but would be forced to stop working on their careers, at least in Japan.

Katsuo Yoshinari, APFS’s adviser, says, “Rather than rushing to invite foreign workers from abroad with little planning (on how to help them fit in), we believe the government should first face the existence of these undocumented foreigners already based in our nation, and discuss their possible legalization.”

– Mona Neuhauss

Main image: JustGiving

Visa overstayers, foreigners, undocumented, residence, Japan