Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Structural Conditioning of Migrant "Illegality" in Japan

As a quick recap, I employ the case of the Status of Residence (SRS) system, first instituted in 1981, to highlight how the “control” objective of Japan as the host country is operationalized into the two axes of the SRS, that is, duration and productivity.  I consequently argue that the SRS is the foundation on which ethnic pockets draw their legal status from where they, in turn, anchor the sustenance of migrant “illegality.”  This then helps us understand the divergence of conceptions of “Illegality” as status and the convergence of conceptions of “Illegality” as systemic.

I will now cite one point on the structural conditioning – Necessary Complementarity – that may better contextualize why conceptions of “Illegality” converge and diverge as I contend that they do and not otherwise.

Archer (1995) explains Necessary Complementarity as part of the structural conditioning with which agency operates.  When two or more structural factors – which may or may not have developed in conjuction with one another – find their interests and goals mutually in support of or in alignment with one another a situation of Necessary Complementarity is argued to exist.

Three structural variables, I contend, formed a Necessary Complementarity that conditioned the convergence and divergence of conceptions of “Illegality.”  

These three variables are:

First, Japan’s immigration law, first called the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (ICRRA) in 1981 in order to recognize and formalize the status of refugees (Mori 1997), provided a much needed boost of legitimacy to Japan as a full-fledged member of the international community and as being compliant with international standards on human rights.  I say “much needed” because how Japan prior to 1981  dealt with its Korean and Chinese ethnic population that carried over from WWII exposed its prioritization of national interests over human rights.  Called “contradictions and citizenship politics” (Chung 2010), Japan essentially kept what should have been a deeply intimate ethnic population – given its role providing wartime labor during Japan’s aggressive imperial years – at arm’s length, first keeping the legal status of their descendants unclear for decades and then indecisively acting on multiple instances of human rights issues.  From this ICRRA then arose the SRS which became the legal basis of the immigration control of the succeeding decades.

Second, at about the same period as the immigration control act came to be rebranded as the ICRRA, certain trends in the crime and security situation – as culled out from a detailed scanning of annual police reports from 1973-2011 – showed a noticeable shift to "internationalization of crime" (National Police Agency 1973-2011).  In the 1970s Korean and Chinese crimes were regular staple and were classified the chapter heading called "activities and investigation."  In the 1980s crimes by "visiting foreign nationals," referring to foreign visitors on short-term stays, began to be reported.  Illegal immigrant statistics were now found more frequently under the heading "maintenance of public safety."  The 1987 police report focused heavily on globalization, citing new-comer crimes by Filipinos, Nigerians and Pakistanis.  By 1990 the whole of chapter 1 discussed the problems of foreign workers, linking work in the sex industry and unskilled labor with migrant illegality.  This noticeable shift in police action and reporting, needless to say, were based on corresponding changes in the legal framework against illegal migrants

Third, in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, stocks and flows of foreigner groups increased substantially in response to various immigration initiatives (recall Figure 17: Japan Labor Protectionism Matrix) including the return of Japanese descendants, the entry of technical trainees, the recruitment of more foreign students.  The entry of these "new-comers," as they would often be called (in contrast the Koreans and Taiwanese "old-comers"), coincided with a watershed of sorts for migrant illegality in Japan.  As I argue above, this period starting in early 1980s and continuing for most of the next two decades gave Filipinos in Japan one of its distinct and decidedly characteristic features (at least in the perspective of the Japanese):  an ethnic group of mostly brides or female entertainers, or both, to the Japanese.  And naturally this feature found parallels in the gender composition of overstayers in Japan with the Philippines having the highest percentages of women overstayers (67%-71% in the year 2005-2010) compared to the top 10 nationalities of overstayers (see Annex 2).

How do these three variables form a Necessary Complementarity that explain the particular convergence and divergence of conceptions of “Illegality” by the three vested interests?

The ICRRA (first variable) formalized the basis of an immigration control infrastructure and its accompanying legitimacy boost emboldened other parts of the government to reorient its existing programs, such as that of the national police agency (second variable), to what, I contend, is tantamount to a strategy of fear.  Without the legal basis now provided by the ICRRA, the crime strategy of the Japan police would not have been as pervasive and fully sanctioned as it was.  This first variable also provided the impetus to the massive influx of newcomer migrants who then, paradoxically, become the object of the control of the first and second variables.

This Necessary Complementarity produced by the three variables conditioned the varying conceptions of “Illegality” as status and “Illegality” as systemic as it heightened the opposing stances of the three vested interests – making respective interests farther from the other in terms of common ground.  New rules on resident categories started in the ICRRA of 1981 and enforced to the letter by the National Police Agency provided a rallying point, a common “enemy” so to speak for embedded ethnic groups.  This provided the crystallization of embedded ethnic groups into what I call the “Compatriot Mechanism” that plays four key roles in the sustenance of migrant illegality in Japan.

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