Japan's so-called visa overstayers tell of life in legal limbo

posted on October 25, 2015

Whenever 12-year-old Jezreel Ann Balbuena comes down with a cold, her parents rush to a nearby pharmacy to get hold of nonprescription drugs and take turns tending to her. Going to see a doctor is not an option because the family has no health insurance.

Daily necessities, such as rice, clothes and stationery items, are hard to come by, too, with Balbuena unable to wear anything other than her mother’s hand-me-down clothes.

“I’m ashamed every time I find myself to be the last person in my classroom to pay school lunch fees and other school-related expenses,” the Filipino said. “I’m scared of the way people look at me.”

Like many other children born into undocumented immigrant families, Balbuena has no valid visa status - a situation that has thrown her into a lifetime of poverty and legal limbo.

Ever since they were caught overstaying their visas in 2009, her family has lived on a highly precarious status called karihomen, or provisional release, that spares them detention but requires monthly renewal. Those on provisional release are unable to work, claim national health insurance or travel beyond their residing prefecture without permission from immigration authorities.

As such, many children live in fear that their family may one day be denied renewal and repatriated to a country that they know nothing about.

Some of these children, in asking for special permission to live in Japan, have been told by the government that while they qualify on humanitarian grounds, their parents do not - an ultimatum that threatens to tear their families apart.

Eight children in such a predicament petitioned the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, in Shinagawa Ward, on Friday for clemency from the government to allow their families to stay and, as one organizer put it, “pursue their dreams in Japan.”

“To these children, their parents’ countries are so foreign. These are not the places for them to ‘return’ to,” said organizer Jotaro Kato, who heads nonprofit organization Asian People’s Friendship Society (APFS).

“Children can’t pick the parents they are born to. Given their circumstances, I believe they deserve a bit of mercy from the government. And being together with their parents is crucial to their sound development.”

Friday’s action comes amid Japan’s intensifying crackdown on illegal immigrants, including visa overstayers, in the lead-up to the 2020 Olympic games. Although Japan used to tolerate visa overstayers at the height of its bubble economy, it quickly began to clamp down on them once demand for their labor fizzled out, branding them criminals responsible for wrongdoing such as home invasions and robberies.

The number of visa overstayers was 60,007 as of Jan. 1 this year, about one-fifth of the record 298,646 logged in 1993, according to the Justice Ministry.


source by japantimes
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