The number of people applying for refugee status in Japan has spiked sharply, rising above 10,000 for the first time in 2016.
Because of the time it takes to distinguish refugees from people who have come to Japan looking for employment, there is an enormous case backlog. To alleviate the heavy workload, the Ministry of Justice is expected to revise a ministry ordinance to allow regional immigration authorities to start carrying out the screening process as early as June.
Approval of refugee status requires an investigation by the central government, and takes at least six months. Once a person is given refugee status, they are permitted to work in Japan. However, as a general rule, they cannot work during the screening process period -- meaning that many waiting for recognition as refugees are at risk of falling into economic distress. Because of this, the ministry decided in 2010 that it would allow all those with resident status to work after six months from the date of submission of their refugee application.
According to the Ministry of Justice, 1,202 people applied for refugee status in 2010. Since 2011 that figure has surged, continuing to break records every year. As of late September 2016, the number of people who had applied for refugee status reached a record 7,926 people.
While applications have increased, actual approvals of refugee status are not expected to be much greater in 2016 than the 27 given in 2015.
"There is erroneous information spreading among brokers and refugee applicants that if one applies for refugee status in Japan, they'll be able to work," a senior Ministry of Justice official says. "That's creating problems for us in determining who's a refugee that actually needs aid."
Because the task of screening refugee applications is currently left wholly up to the Ministry of Justice, causing the massive backlog in pending cases, it has decided to delegate the screening process to directors-general of regional immigration bureaus.