Foreign national residency management system (Japan)

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Japan maintains a residency management system (在留管理制度 zairyuu kanri seido) which records details of all non-Japanese citizens who legally live in the country. In July 2012, 'alien registration' databases managed by local authorities were merged into a single nationwide system controlled by the Ministry of Justice. All foreign nationals legally present in Japan except for temporary visitors (such as tourists) are enrolled on the system and must carry a 'residence card' (在留カード zairyuu kaado), which includes data on their statuses, at all times. Despite the name, the 'residency management system' is for non-Japanese citizens only, and there is no equivalent card or requirements for Japanese citizens.[1]

Unlike in many other countries, where a visa permits a foreign national to both enter and stay, Japanese visas are only valid for entry; residency itself is permitted through the residence card, which details the holder's 'status of residence' (在留資格 zairyuu shikaku, SOR; e.g. work permitted in a particular kind of job category). New residents receive this on arrival at major ports of entry, or else it is sent to their home address. Foreign residents who have renewed their SORs no longer receive any new stamps in their passports; however, a 're-entry permit' (再入国許可 sainyuukoku kyoka) stamp, obtainable for a fee, grants the passport holder permission to leave the country for more than a year and re-enter without losing their status of residence.[2]

Foreign nationals have also been registered locally since July 2012, on the same residency database as Japanese citizens, for the purposes of local taxation and provision of amenities. Each resident is registered on a residency certificate (住民票 juuminhyoo); previously, all foreign nationals were listed on a separate system (see system until July 2012, below).

Separately, most foreign nationals, but not citizens, are fingerprinted and photographed on each and every arrival to Japan; this information is held at a national level, includes residents and non-residents alike, and is not part of the residency management system.[3] Temporary visitors to Japan must carry their passports at all times.

'Special permanent residents'

Special permanent residents (特別永住者 tokubetsu eijuusha, SPRs), who are former Imperial Japanese colonial subjects and their descendants, are also recorded on the residency management system. This is somewhat controversial given that the majority were born in and have resided throughout their lives in Japan, speak only Japanese, and use Japanese names or aliases on a daily basis (Japan disallows dual nationality and has a jus sanguinis[4] system of determining citizenship). SPRs must naturalise as Japanese citizens in order to be removed from the residency management database, applying through the same process that allows non-citizens of other backgrounds to become Japanese.[5]

Special permanent residents are not fingerprinted or photographed on entry, and certain classes of foreign nationals are exempt from both entry on the residency management system and fingerprinting. These categories include foreign diplomatic staff and members of the United States Forces Japan; the latter travel on military identity cards.

System until July 2012

Japan maintained a legal system of alien registration (外国人登録 gaikokujin tooroku) for most non-Japanese citizens who resided in the country. Within 90 days of first arrival, foreign nationals had to register their presence with local authorities and apply for an 'alien registration card' (外国人登録証明書 gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho, ARC; an identity card), which had to be carried at all times and shown to any official empowered by the Ministry of Justice.[6]

All statuses of residence were recorded on the system; for example, permanent residents (永住者 eijuusha) had to be listed and carried ARC cards as well as newcomers and individuals holding various other SORs. Some municipalities also recorded individuals without any status of residence (i.e. illegal immigrants) and issue them with ARCs (this is not possible under the current system).[7] Any stay exceeding 90 days required an ARC application. On naturalisation or final departure from the country, the ARC had to be surrendered. Re-entry permits were necessary under the old system for any departure and return to Japan, for any length of time; without one, the foreign national would lose their SOR altogether on exit.


  1. Ministry of Justice: 'Start of a new residency management system!' and 'Changes to the Immigration Control Act!'.
  2. See the Video subpage of this article for an interview giving more information about the residency management system.
  3. Reuters: 'Japan fingerprints foreigners as anti-terror move'. 20th November 2007.
  4. Latin: 'right of blood', i.e. citizenship is awarded if a parent is a citizen and not according to place of birth.
  5. Ryang and Lie (2009).
  6. Ministry of Justice: 'The Alien Registration Law'.
  7. Japan Times: 'Proposed foreigner card protested'. 25th May 2009.