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Waseda Hoshien Student Christian Center
Creating a place where people find new friends and opportunities

This month's Close UP features the Consultation Support Center for Foreign Residents located in Shinjuku Tabunka Kyosei Plaza, Shinjuku City. The Support Center is organized by the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice as one of the “one-stop” type of consultation service offices for foreign residents in Japan. In collaboration with foreign resident services at local communities, the Support Center provides information about administrative procedures such as visas and also gives support and advice on various issues related to the everyday living of foreign residents in Japan. For this interview, we spoke to Yumi Yamamoto, coordinator and Bengali/English consultant of the Support Center, along with Tamao Kurosawa and Hiroyoshi Kato, president and vice president of the Citizen's Network for Global Activities (CINGA), a non-profit organization and commissioned management body of the Support Center since April 2012.

Ms. Yamamoto (front), Mr. Kurosawa (rear left), and Mr. Kato (rear right)

Ms. Yamamoto (front), Mr. Kurosawa (rear left), and Mr. Kato (rear right)

Can you introduce us to how the Consultation Support Center for Foreign Residents was first established.

A. In December 2008, upon the formulation of Action Plan to Create a Crime-Resistant Society 2008, the Japanese government began working towards an establishment of infrastructures to achieve society where multicultural co-existence is realized. Supporting foreign residents for their living through a consultation service was included as one of the goals of the new policy, and the Support Center was organized by the Ministry of Justice as a “one-stop” type consultation service office to offer help to foreigners. While receiving voluntary cooperation of local citizens, businesses, and citizen groups and organizations, the Support Center continues working towards its goal of building a system that allows us to respond flexibly to foreign residents’ needs. Our responsibility here is to offer support with regard to administrative issues such as immigration and visas and also to provide information service and consultations related to foreign residents’ everyday living. From April this year, Citizen's Network for Global Activities (CINGA), a non-profit organization of such professionals as lawyers and psychiatrists which is experienced in offering professional consultations to foreigners, has taken charge in the management of the Support Center.

Who does the Support Center most commonly serve?

At the reception desk of the Support Center
Consultations are provided on site and over the phone.

A. We receive requests for consultation services via phone and on site from foreign residents living in Japan as well as concerned people and organizations of the residents. As we are located in Shinjuku, we have many clients from China and South Korea. Topics of the consultations vary so widely, but about eighty percent of the consultation cases are about visa and residential status, considering the Support Center being part of the organization of the Immigration Bureau. Other issues include divorces and custodies of children, troubles at work, concerns about children’s schools and education, and many other issues that may arise in their daily living. Many people come to us for help with multiple issues. Language is not the only difficulty they have to face. If a couple has decided to divorce, for example, they have to deal with a complicated chain of challenges regarding visa status, child’s custody, housing, money, and so on.

How do you help your clients?

A. For issues related to the visa status application, we provide detail-oriented information based on the website of the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice. As for issues about families, employment, medical care, education, or other fields, we used to refer inquiries to related organizations of prefectural or municipal governments. From this year, however, we started offering consultation services by such specialists as lawyers, psychiatrists, administrative scriveners, labor and social security attorneys, and labor counselors, which we believe should cover most of the living-related issues so as to function as a “one-stop” consultation center defined by the Ministry of Justice. Specialist consultation services are available on the second Friday of each month, and advance reservation is strongly recommended. If we come across problems for which the Support Center is not capable of providing sufficient support, we refer these matters to related organizations available to provide the clients with reliable help to solve their problems.

We understand that the Support Center offers consultations in eight languages now.

A. Our biggest strength is that we offer multilingual services by covering minor foreign languages, such as Indonesian, Vietnamese, Bengali, and Rumanian, which are not commonly available at local government offices. We have consultants in English, Chinese, and Portuguese every day, Bengali on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, Indonesian on Tuesday, Vietnamese on Thursday, and Rumanian on Friday. We also use a trio-phone system to connect a client, a consultant as a translator, and a specialist over the phone. Since almost all of our specialists have their regular job beside the work at the Support Center, we are trying to establish a system using the trio-phone so that the specialists can be reached as needed while they are at work via their cell phone. For the Support Center consultants including myself, it is our role to properly connect a client to a professional, considering first the language and then on topics to be discussed.

The trio-phone system is used to smoothly connect to specialists

The trio-phone system is used to smoothly connect to specialists

What is the Support Center’s next goal?

An office at the Consultation Support Center for Foreign Residents

A. As I mentioned earlier, our Support Center was founded as part of the efforts to prepare infrastructures for society where multicultural co-existence is possible. To achieve this, we need to establish a system that allows us to offer complete help at the Center without sending the clients out of the system to have someone else take care of them. The consultation service by specialists that we just started this year is a key project to realizing this goal. At the same time, in order to increase public awareness of our one-stop foreign resident service functions, it is also important for us to build a face-to-face network with local governments and citizen organizations by exchanging information between each other.

Lastly, please give a message to our readers.

A. With a new immigration management system starting this July, we want to make sure we deliver accurate information to foreign residents in Japan so that they won’t be confused once the system is introduced. Our service is not limited to foreign residents themselves, but we are also encouraging inquiries from those within the support groups and organizations helping foreign residents, employers of foreign residents, or any people concerned about the living of foreign residents. It is our policy to listen to any inquiries regardless of whom those inquiries are from. Our office as well as phone consultation are open on Monday through Friday, from 9AM to 4PM.