January 2019


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ASIAN PEOPLE’S FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY (APFS)

- Striving for a nation where foreign residents can live without discrimination and prejudice -

In Close Up this month, we introduce ASIAN PEOPLE’S FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY (APFS). APFS is a non-profit organization promoting activities to create a society in which foreigners and Japanese live in a community, mutually supporting one another. During the more than 30 years since its foundation in 1987, the organization has been offering consultations to foreign residents on resident status and labor problems. APFS consults with foreigners in times of difficulties without regard to their residency circumstances, and reaches out to offer help to irregular foreign residents who live in Japan without resident status. On this occasion we talked with Representative, Ms. Mayumi Yoshida, about APFS activities.

Ms. Mayumi Yoshida, Representative

Please tell us what led to the establishment of APFS.

Ms. Yoshida

My understanding is that it all began when the founder of our organization met Bangladeshi students at a public bath. From the second half of the 1980’s many people from Asian countries came to Japan to work or study, but more than a few people suffered problems with day-to-day life and discrimination. As the founder of the organization deepened his friendships with Bangladeshis he became aware that living in Japan exposed them to various problems, which motivated him to found APFS in 1987. Within our organization, which promotes activities to create a society in which foreign and Japanese residents mutually support one another, we have directors from 4 other countries, Bangladesh, Philippines, Iran and Burma, in addition to Japanese directors, and currently have more than 3,800 collaborative members from 30 countries.

Please share some details of your main activities.

Ms. Yoshida

The two pillars of our activities are the consulting service for foreign residents and advocating for their basic human rights. We put much effort in the consulting service which receives about 1,000 enquiries per year via telephone, email and office visits. The majority of enquiries relate to qualifying for resident status and work issues, both in equal amounts about 50/50. As for work problems, the majority deal with work accidents, unpaid wages, and unfair dismissal. As for enquiries related to qualifying for residency, for those already having resident status there is a significant number of enquiries during an irregular change or renewal, for example, whether a foreigner can continue residing in Japan upon the death of their Japanese spouse.

A parade was held in Ginza requesting Special Permission
to Stay in Japan for 34 irregular foreign residents,
composed of 18 families and 2 individuals.
© Asian People’s Friendship Society

We held APFS’s 30th anniversary party
at the restaurant belonging
to one of our directors.
© Asian People’s Friendship Society

It is said that you offer consulting services to foreigners who don’t have resident status.

Ms. Yoshida

Yes. APFS offers consultation services to foreigners experiencing problems, regardless whether they have resident status or not. We often receive enquiries from irregular foreign residents, who reside in Japan without resident status, on how they can continue living in Japan in the future. For those with a solid reason to remain in the country, for example having a child born in Japan, we can offer help in obtaining the Special Permission to Stay in Japan which legalizes irregular foreign residents, such as advice on the necessary documentation and accompany them to the Immigration Bureau. For those detained by the bureau we give the maximum support possible, such as request the granting of a provisional release. Of course there are many times there is a negligible chance of being granted residency. Even though, we never recommend that they return to their country to those who tell us “I cannot go back.” We tell them frankly that there is little hope, but offer to help them in any way we can.

What is the reason and the background as to why there are so many irregular foreign residents in Japan?

Ms. Yoshida

The majority are foreign workers from many Asian countries who came to Japan to work in the latter part of the 1980’s and later. Japan at the time was at the pinnacle of the economic bubble. Factories, construction sites, restaurants, and others needed manpower and on many occasions eyes were closed, though a police check would have revealed an over-extended stay due to the expiry of their resident status. In this way they continued to work in Japan without having resident status, then they married and had children in Japan. Subsequently, with the change to Japan’s economic situation, the conditions surrounding irregular foreign workers became stricter. Some were asked to leave, however, they have children born in Japan who only speak Japanese, go to Japanese school, and live the same way as a native Japanese children. Though they are told that their children’s residency is approved, the parent(s) must return to their country. It is inconceivable for them to return while leaving their children in Japan. Furthermore, in many cases the parent(s) themselves have spent a long time, 10 or 20 years outside of their country, and cannot find work in their country to support themselves. It is undeniable that they violated the Immigration Control Act, however is it permissible to take advantage of these people when convenient to Japanese society, and then insist they return home when they are no longer needed?

A reunion was organized for immigrant workers.
We listen to the voices of workers, concerned parties,
and to the children of families of irregular foreign residents.
© Asian People’s Friendship Society

A campaign was begun, “Families Together as One”
to support families of irregular foreign residents.
A kick off symposium was organized.
© Asian People’s Friendship Society

Is there any case within your range of activities up to this point that is especially unforgettable?

Ms. Yoshida

There was the case of a man our organization was helping who died on the plane as he was being deported. I cannot forget this case, including the support we offered his Japanese wife to proceed to administrative litigation to determine whether the escort from the Immigration Bureau acted appropriately. This caused me great mental anguish which affected me for a long time, thinking that this man could have been easily granted resident status and living happily in Japan with his spouse if it hadn’t been me personally offering help…should I continue in this line of work or not? On the other hand, when I help a foreigner obtain resident status, open a restaurant or start a business, and live happily with his family in Japan, it gives me great pleasure to have dedicated myself to this line of work.

Are there any problems with the activities?

Ms. Yoshida

The training of personnel and the financial situation. As we depend on donations and memberships fees, we are constantly under financial stress. However, we somehow manage activities with two full-time staff and volunteers. Though we would like to hire new staff, it is lamentable we cannot pay decent wages. However, I think we need more personnel to help us with future activities. When hiring, we don’t expect our employees to initially have professional knowledge such as legal, or advanced foreign language abilities. The majority of people coming to consult with APFS have resided for a long time in Japan and communication can proceed in a mixture of Japanese and English. If an individual who has recently settled in Japan comes to us for a consultation, a foreign resident now well established in Japan and who once came to us seeking support, can offer to help. As such, the primary requisite we look for in new personnel is someone who is sympathetic to our activities and motivated to work together.

The acceptance of foreign workers will be expanded. Please tell us of activities to be developed in the future.

Ms. Yoshida

When a law relating to immigrants is revised, Western countries sometimes offer “amnesty” granting previously undocumented foreigners resident status under certain conditions. With the latest revision of the Immigration Control Act, APFS will take this opportunity to seek such amnesties in Japan. Before accepting new foreign workers, we want existing irregular foreign workers to be legalized because they are established, reside in Japan, speak the language and understand Japanese culture. Up to the present, APFS has tried to provide help to the most vulnerable unable to demand their rights. From now on and in the future, we want to continue with activities that advocate for the rights of persons unable to defend themselves due to the loss of their resident status. Soon we will learn more details on the revised Immigration Control Act and would like to move forward pressing for the legalization of irregular foreign residents.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

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