Immigration Reform Bill Would Require Reviews of Detention in Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Justice Ministry in Tokyo

A bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law will include a new provision stipulating that the detention of foreign nationals who are subject to deportation should be reviewed every three months, it has been learned.

Adding such a provision to the bill, which the government is scheduled to submit to the current Diet session, is aimed to better ensure the human rights of foreign nationals being detained at immigration facilities, according to sources.

Under the current framework, all foreign nationals whose visas have expired or who have been convicted are detained at immigration facilities prior to deportation, in principle. The bill will change this approach and introduce a “supervisory measures,” under which such foreign nationals will be allowed to live outside the facilities as long as they are monitored by supervisors designated by the Immigration Services Agency.

The bill will also stipulate that even when such foreign nationals are held at immigration facilities, their detention should be reviewed every three months to consider if they can be placed under the supervision system, so that prolonged detention can be avoided as much as possible.

Currently, provisional release is granted to detainees if they have health issues, among other reasons. However, as guarantors for foreign nationals on provisional release are not obliged to supervise them, about 1,400 provisionally released detainees were missing as of the end of last year. The envisioned system is aimed at tightening measures to prevent them from fleeing.

In light of strong domestic and international criticism of Japan’s cautious stance on accepting refugees and its strict criteria for granting official refugee status, the bill will aim for Japan to receive more foreign nationals who flee to its shores.

Under the bill, foreign nationals displaced from conflict zones will be given the status as “people in need of complementary protection” so that they will be protected in a similar way as officially recognized refugees, such as being allowed to settle in Japan and enroll in the national health insurance program, among other benefits. The envisioned status is expected to be granted mainly to people who have fled from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Meanwhile, the bill will stipulate that foreign nationals can apply for refugee status up to two times in principle, because there have been a number of cases in which multiple reapplications have been used as a way to put off deportation.

An earlier bill to revise the immigration law was submitted to the ordinary Diet session in 2021 by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. However, it was eventually scrapped, after the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties confronted the ruling camp by insisting that the priority should be given to identifying factors behind the death of a Sri Lankan woman while she was in detention at an immigration facility.

Opposition parties also oppose the latest bill, as it shares most of the details with the scrapped one.