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Filipino family at center of debate on Japan's uneven immigration rules

Sep 03, 2010




A Filipino family who had been living illegally in Japan will be split apart when a mother and father must return to the Philippines and leave their 13-year-old daughter behind, drawing renewed attention to Japan’s often unclear immigration policies.

I’m Liza Hearon for Kyodo News in Tokyo. In this podcast, I’ll take a look at how Japan’s immigration and deportation policies are applied. The lack of set criteria can cause heartbreak for families such as this one.

On April 13, Arlan and Sarah Calderon plan to return to the Philippines and leave behind their daughter, Noriko. Their case has drawn lots of attention. But in the end, the parents were ordered to leave the country since they entered it illegally in the early 1990s.

According to reporting by Masako Ozaki on the family’s case, Noriko sings in her school choir and wants to open a dance school — a dream like any other junior high schooler here. She speaks Japanese fluently.

Yet she has become a focal point in a debate over Japan’s immigration policies, which affect the 150,000 foreigners estimated to be illegally living in Japan as of January last year.

Noriko’s year in school may have been her ticket to stay. The immigration authority in the past has allowed some attending middle schools or higher education to stay — but not always.

The family’s lawyer, Shogo Watanabe, said he thinks it’s ‘’high time'’ that Japan establish criteria to protect the rights of children. Other countries, such as Britain, have defined criteria under which foreigners can obtain residency permission.

Information from immigration authorities says there is no criteria for granting special permission to stay to those who are slated for deportation. It says it considers ‘’various factors'’ like behavior and circumstances when making decisions. In Japan, immigration is handled by the Ministry of Justice, and not a separate authority.

Perhaps this approach benefited Maryam Amine, an Iranian college student who was recently granted a one-year residence status in order to work. Her parents and Japan-born younger sister were deported in 2007. But she was allowed to stay as a foreign student and now as a resident despite her parents overstaying their visas in 1991.

In another court ruling in January this year, a lawyer from Myanmar was allowed to stay in Japan as a refugee. She had stayed illegally since 1992 and later filed for refugee status, only to receive a deportation order in 2007. The court ruled that she could face persecution in her country for her activities against the military junta. However, her sister was not allowed to stay as a refugee, with the court saying that she only acted ‘’subserviently and indirectly'’ in political activities.

In other rulings in the past year, a Kurdish family was granted special residency status for a year. The Justice Ministry apparently gave them special consideration since their daughter was a first-grader at elementary school.

In March, a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial called for ‘’clear yardsticks'’ in granting residency permits, saying that the immigration control system would be regarded with greater respect if precise decisions were made based on defined criteria.

The Calderons’ lawyer expressed a similar sentiment, saying that Japan needs to consider the current situation of foreigners in the country before making policies to invite more.

He said, ‘’Foreigners are not objects. You can not just bring or take them out whenever you wish.'’

Thanks for listening to this podcast. Stay tuned for more English-language podcasts on news topics at Kyodo’s homepage.


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