Japan’s Revised Immigration Law Will Help Schoolchildren, Deport Others

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By Himari Semans

Revisions to Japan’s Immigration Laws, set to go into effect on June 15th, are already changing lives for the better — and for the worse. Changes will grant residency to Japan-born schoolchildren under provisional release with their families. However, the same revisions will remove prospective refugees’ rights to stay in Japan if their pending application is their third or greater attempt.

Amnesty for schoolchildren enrolled from June 2023

The Ministry of Justice granted a Kurdish family of five under deportation processing special permission for residency, thereby uplifting their provisional release status in late January. Unseen Japan has previously reported on the status known as karihomen (仮放免) in Japanese.

The grant comes after legislators revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Act and made the Japan-born karihomen children in school (1st to 12th grade) within a year after June 2023 eligible for residency, as well as their families. The grant does not apply to children whose parents entered Japan illegally.

The same revisions also stipulated that karihomen applying for refugee status for the third time or more are subject to mandatory deportation after June 15th this year. The law orders the Immigration Agency to take measures for karihomen children “who have only ever lived in Japan,” Asahi Shimbun reports.

January’s grant to the Kurdish family living in Kawaguchi City means that the parents can seek employment. It also means the famil can access health insurance. Further, the daughters can go on their dream trip to Osaka without receiving an official approval to cross prefectural borders. (Anyone under karihomen status is forbidden from leaving their prefecture without such permission.)

“I want to go to Osaka and eat yummy food and I also want to go to Universal Studios Japan,” the eldest daughter, now in 4th grade says.

Approximately 140 karihomen children and their families will be residents as a result of this grant, which then-Justice Minister Ken Saitō announced in August last year. It marks the first time in history that Japan has provided a form of amnesty for nonapproved immigrants.

Foreign-born children and families in third application under threat

Meanwhile, the remaining Kurdish children born outside of Japan fall through the cracks.

Farid (pseudonym) is a Turkish national of Kurdish ethnicity in his 40s raising his middle-school son, Silvan (pseudonym) in Saitama. There, 4,000 Kurdish immigrants — many karihomen — have fled to escape persecution by the Turkish government, among other states.

Farid’s family arrived in Japan when his youngest child Silvan was already 3, making them ineligible for the grant.

There are 94 known children in total like Silvan who do not make the cut. About another 60 are ineligible due to their parent’s illegal entry into Japan.

Farid and Silvan tell reporters at 47 NEWS about their frustration with the grant’s narrow criteria.

“It’s unfair. I was born in Turkey, but I don’t remember anything about that place. If I go back to Turkey, I think I’ll be bullied,” says Silvan.

Farid fears worse than bullying. He recalled how Turkish authorities repeatedly arrested and interrogated him on false suspicions that he was involved with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant political organization.

“If we go back to Turkey, my entire family may be arrested and killed,” Farid says, covering his eyes to conceal his emotions.

Farid and his family have lived in Japan since 2013 when they first applied for refugee status. It took until 2022 for the Immigration Services AGency to deny it. They are in the process of applying again.

This second application is the last Farid’s family can file without living under the threat of mandatory deportation. From the third application, they will live in tormenting fear of officials taking them away to a detention center before sending them back to Turkey.

Under the current law, Japan cannot deport karihomen as long as they have an application for refugee status pending. However, after the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Act goes into effect on June 15th this year, those waiting for their 3rd+ application’s results will be deportable by force.

How immigrants become karihomen

Illegal overstayers and immigrants who cannot comply with a deportation order immediately must enter detention centers until departing Japan.

Prolonged detention for reasons such as detainees or their relatives having serious illness leads to a temporary release from centers. Beyond cells, they re-enter society not as free civilians but as karihomen without legal access to work.

The Immigration Services Agency says “Restrictions are of course necessary because [they] are people who must be deported.” However, the UN’s Human Rights Committee has remonstrated Japan for this, saying that karihomen should have the means to earn an income.

The majority of Japan’s 3000+ karihomen on record are Kurdish, followed by Chinese, Filipinos, and Iranians.

84% of karihomen don’t have enough money to go to the doctor, according to a study by the Kita Kanto Medical Consultation Association, an NPO that supports impoverished foreigners living in Japan. Life-saving surgeries are impossible to undergo without health insurance.

Many karihomen end up homeless. 1 in 5 karihomen cannot pay rent and live on the streets.

Over 150 children and their families under karihomen status are now looking at two grim options after June 15th: continue a life of surveillance and restrictions or leave Japan. Considering Japan’s 2% acceptance rate of refugees, the third alternative of finally becoming legal residents is very slim.

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日本で生まれ育った子への在留特別許可 川口のクルド人家族にも. 朝日新聞

アルバイトもできないトルコ国籍クルド人の中学生 3歳で来日、定住を認められず仮放免【あなたの隣に住む「難民」③】. 47 NEWS

就労ダメ、保険もなく病院にかかれず… 今でも苦しい「仮放免」の外国人をさらに締め付ける改正法. 東京新聞

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