Japan is looking to tighten controls on foreign residents to crack down on undocumented aliens and ensure that all households receive public services, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama said Friday.
Japan largely sees itself as ethnically homogeneous and has consistently rejected wide-scale immigration despite having one of the world’s lowest birth rates.
It requires foreign residents to carry registration cards which are issued by municipal offices.
The system is often criticized as ineffective as foreigners do not need to re-register when moving and local offices often do not check with the central Immigration Bureau on applicants’ legal status.
“It doesn’t make sense that the foreign registration card is issued to people the Immigration Bureau considers illegal stayers,” Hatoyama told reporters.
He said the ministry is looking at “integrating administration concerning immigration control and registration of foreign residents.”
Specifically, the government is considering a new identification card issued by the central government and requiring residents to register every change of address, a ministry official said.
But the official said the government will likely exempt Koreans and Chinese whose families have resided in Japan for generations and currently still have to carry foreigners’ cards.
Some 700,000 Koreans live in Japan, mostly a legacy of those who immigrated or were enslaved during colonial rule, forming the largest minority group.
Human rights groups have long argued that the registration system prevents people of foreign origin from integrating in Japan.
Local authorities used to collect fingerprints of all foreign residents, even if their families lived in Japan for generations, under a system abolished in 2000.
But Japan last year started fingerprinting foreigners when they enter the country under a US-inspired system to prevent terrorists from entering.