The number of refugee-status applications submitted by illegal foreign residents in this country has grown fourfold since legislation for refugee recognition was revised in 2004, a recent Justice Ministry survey has found.
According to the ministry, such applications have totaled about 6,800 in the past 10 years, following revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law in 2004.
The legislative reform grants foreign residents exemption from deportation while waiting for their refugee-status applications to be processed by the Japanese authorities.
Controversy has arisen over some foreigners with residency status in Japan who exploit the refugee application system to help foreign residents unlawfully apply for refugee status just to work in this country.
With such an issue surfacing, immi-gration authorities believe falsified applications have also become their means of avoiding deportation.
With the purpose of protecting refugees, the law was revised so that refugee-status applicants no longer face deportation while waiting for their applications to be processed, and an application deadline was lifted.
Before the revision, applications must be made within 60 days from a person's entrance into Japan.
Before the 2004 revision, the number of applications made by illegal residents whom police identified as overstaying their visas or being involved in drug-related cases, among others, hovered between 100 and 299 a year.
However, the figure jumped to between 700 and 899 annually in the following 10 years from 2005 to 2015, despite the drop in the number of those overstaying from about 200,000 to 60,000.
Following the elimination of the application deadline, there has been an increasing number of cases in which those who stayed in Japan for a long period of time apply for refugee status.
Of 545 illegal residents who applied for the status in 2013 - not including those reapplying - those who had been in Japan for more than a year accounted for 70 per cent, while residents of more than five years accounted for nearly 50 per cent.
"Anyone who finds themselves in a real refugee situation would surely apply for refugee status to seek protection as soon as their arrival in Japan," said a senior official at an immigration office.
Those who are illegally staying in Japan are sent to detention centres. However, if the process of examining a refugee-status application becomes prolonged, an applicant could be provisionally released from the centre.
The number of those who were provisionally released has been increasing year by year, totaling 3,404 as of the end of last year.
Of them, 52 per cent are currently waiting for the results of their refugee-status applications.
Although illegal residents are not allowed to work in Japan even if they apply for refugee status, there have been a string of cases identified as working illegally.
Only within the jurisdiction of the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, 73 people who had been provisionally released were arrested, and these cases include heinous crimes, such as robbery resulting in injury and rape resulting in injury.