Ministry OK’s fear-free vaccination of visa overstayers

The health ministry has told prefectures that if they vaccinate foreign nationals whom they find have been staying in Japan illegally, they do not need to report them to immigration authorities, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry sent a notice putting priority on halting the spread of the novel coronavirus in communities by creating an environment where anyone can be vaccinated without fear.

In response to the notice, the municipal government of Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture, has begun inoculating visa overstayers.

The Immigration and Refugee Recognition Law obliges public servants to report to immigration inspectors or control officers the presence of foreign nationals subject to deportation. There has been concern that this rule would inhibit overstayers from cooperating with epidemiological surveys or vaccination programs.

On June 28, the health ministry announced that local governments “need to take appropriate measures” against the coronavirus even for foreign nationals subject to deportation. The notice stipulated that local governments “can refrain from reporting” overstayers to immigration authorities if such reporting would create problems with carrying out vaccinations.

However, it added, “It is still desirable to encourage overstayers to turn themselves in.”

On Oct. 17, the Oarai government started vaccinating foreigners whose residence visa had expired. As of Tuesday, 227 members of the foreign community had applied for vaccination, and 225 had completed their first vaccination. Two canceled.

Foreign residents account for about 5% of Oarai’s population, and a surge in infections in April and May in the town spread mainly among foreign families.

“Another similar outbreak might occur if the vaccinations are not carried out,” a town official said, giving a reason for following the ministerial notice.

The Immigration Services Agency and the Ibaraki prefectural police have refrained from taking any position in regard to the measure implemented by the ministry and the town.

Although the prefectural police said they have no intention of easing enforcement of immigration laws, they denied that they target vaccination venues.

“Many foreigners who do not have proper residency qualifications live or work in crowded places under high risk of infection,” said Kokushikan University Prof. Eriko Suzuki, who specializes in policies on foreigners. “If they can get vaccinated with peace of mind, their lives will be protected and the spread of infection in Japanese society will be controlled. Vaccination and policing should be separated.”