Posted on September 23, 2004

Visa Violators Throw Selves At State’s Mercy

Masami Ito, Japan Times, Sept. 22

Eight Bangladeshi men who have overstayed their visas turned themselves in to immigration authorities Tuesday in hopes of getting special residence permission.

They walked into the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa Ward at 1 p.m. despite the risk of detention.

All eight arrived in Japan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most came here to find jobs, and some have spent a couple of years studying at Japanese-language schools.

Working at a laundry, restaurant and construction sites, the men said they have struggled to carve out lives for themselves here and support their families back in Bangladesh.

At a news conference earlier in the day, the men said their lives would be difficult if deported back to their own country because they have been here for so long.

According to a support group, some 40 people agreed about a year ago to turn themselves in at the immigration bureau together. But some ran or decided to pass, and others were caught, leaving the eight men at the end, they said.

“These men are well aware of the consequences,” said Satoshi Murata, one of the lawyers supporting the Bangladesh men. “They could be detained for being in the country illegally. But it is not about being detained. It is about the government and how it plans to deal with such situations from now on.”

Murata added that in the 20 years he has been handling such cases, he has not heard of special residence permission being granted to singles, only for people with families also in Japan.

The Justice Ministry in August posted on its Web site 26 examples in which special permission has been granted. In almost all the cases, the applicants had family members here or had gotten married to a Japanese.

The number of special residence permits granted has seen an increase in recent years. According to the Immigration Bureau, there were 4,318 cases in 1999, but last year the number jumped to 10,327.

The Justice Ministry says there is no actual standard, only saying special residence permission is granted for such reasons as humanitarian grounds.

“All they are asking for is to be able to live here in Japan without having to hide,” said Eriko Suzuki, director of a group that supports immigrants seeking special residence. “To be able to continue their life here, to be with their friends, is something that any human being would want.”