During 2014, the number of Thai nationals refused entry into Japan exceeded 1,000 persons, the Sankei Shimbun (March 8) notes. This figure, according to Japan's Ministry of Justice, began soaring following adoption of the visa waiver system enabling Thai citizens to enter Japan for stays of short duration, which went into effect from July 2013.
Taking advantage of a visa waiver policy, the number of Thai nationals visiting Japan in 2014 surged by 43% over the year before, reaching 681,743. A less happy figure was 4,391. That was the number of Thais in detention, as of Jan 1, 2014, for overstaying their visas. The figure, up by 23% over 2013, marked the first increase for Thai nationals in 21 years, since the era of the "bubble economy" back in the early 1990s.
The most frequently given reason entry refusal by Immigration was "Doubts over the traveler's stated purpose of entry." Many were caught when they failed to provide a credible explanation of their planned sightseeing activities in Japan, leading inspectors to suspect they were coming to work illegally.
The Sankei noted that last year, 91 Thais were also charged with being in violation of the Refugee Act, more than double the figure for 2013. A high-ranking police official was quoted as saying he believed that figure was likely to be "just the tip of the iceberg."
Japan has given high priority to attracting more foreign tourists as one pillar of its economic strategy, with a targeted goal of 20 million annual visitors by 2020. As one measure, it has been selectively adopting visa waiver programs among ASEAN countries, particularly Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
In a related story in the same issue, the Sankei covered a dawn raid on a location in Ibaraki Prefecture that had been under surveillance for the previous three months by immigration authorities, following notification by an informant of the presence of "illegal foreign overstayers."
The building had its windows blackened to prevent outsiders from peering in. According to one investigating inspector, the property around the building was strewn with a "mountain" of abandoned industrial equipment.
As a male Thai emerged from the building clad in a green jacket, he was confronted by immigration inspectors who then proceeded to enter the facility where they found two more Thais, one male and one female.
Upon questioning, it was found that the three had all entered Japan the previous November with visas permitting a stay of 15 days.
"Just as expected, they got in by 'samen,'" the inspector murmured. "Samen" is immigration shorthand for "sasho-menjo" or visa waiver.
The three Thais admitted to having overstayed their visas and engaging in work without permission.
While being transported in a van to the Tokyo Immigration department, the Thai woman, age 39, told an inspector in reasonably conversational Japanese that she had arrived from Bangkok on a flight to Nagoya. "We took the shinkansen and came here (to Ibaraki)," she said. This had been her third sojourn to Japan. She had paid 800,000 yen to a broker in eastern Thailand, who used the money to buy her air ticket and make work arrangements.
Work in the fields harvesting vegetables earned her 5,000 yen per day. While the amount seems low, an immigration official told the newspaper that a worker could earn enough in two to three years to build a 3-story dwelling. "So they borrow money to come here," he explained with a shrug.
The woman, who left two children back in Thailand, told the inspector, "I like Japan. But I guess I won't be able to come anymore."
Other Thai visa violators have been detained while working in massage parlors in Tokyo and other large cities, and the number is reportedly on the rise. Last year the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department arrested 139, up by 36% from 2013. As more operators of sex businesses attempt to exploit the current no-visa loophole, the authorities are likely to respond with tougher crackdowns.© Japan Today