Japan has been seeing a rapid rise in the number of applicants for refugee status since 2010 but it may be due to a change in the enforcement of the refugee recognition system that grants work permission to petitioners rather than a surge in those in need.
Petitions for refugee status reached 8,561 persons for the first half of 2017, according to preliminary figures released by the Ministry of Justice on Oct. 1. The number is up from 5,011 people between January and June 2016, and while the number surpassed 10,000 applications last year for the first time since statistics began being taken in 1982, this year is projected to be 1.7 times last year's total.
However, of the thousands of petitions from January to the end of June this year, only three people received certified refugee status. While they were not granted refugee status, another 27 people have been allowed to reside in Japan for humanitarian reasons. A top official in the ministry said, "The amount of applications that appear to be for the purpose of receiving permission to work is rising rapidly, and it has become difficult to give swift assistance to people who really require aid."
The Japanese government changed the way it enforces its system for granting refugee status in March 2010. If an individual already holding a formal residency status applies for refugee status, they receive a "designated activities" status after half a year, and are certified to work. This is granted to prevent the applicant from suffering financial problems if the examination to determine if they are indeed a refugee extends for a long period of time.
According to the Justice Ministry, petitions that appear to be for the purpose of receiving this status in order to work in Japan are rapidly increasing. In 2010, the number of petitioners was 1,202, and that number grew steadily each year, reaching a total of 10,901 persons in 2016. Most applicants are reportedly from Asian countries, particularly citizens of Indonesia and the Philippines, for whom visa issuance requirements have been loosened.
Beginning in September 2015, the Justice Ministry began to swiftly deal with improper petitions under reasons such as "I escaped from debt collectors in my home country" and "I want to work in Japan." It also started to quickly process applicants who petitioned a second time after being denied with their reasons unchanged. The ministry is also taking measures to deny working and residency permissions for those who repeatedly apply for refugee status for the purpose of receiving permission to work in Japan.
However, Justice Ministry officials say the number of applicants still greatly surpasses those processed, and the ministry is looking toward reviewing the enforcement of the system to grant the "designated activities" status, which is thought to be behind the increase in petitions for refugee status.