Japan restricts entry to many convicted people

Chidorigafuchi_sakuraJapan has perhaps the strictest conviction-related bars to entry of any country, extending broadly to many felonies (and even some misdemeanors) and without regard to length of stay or purpose.  Even when entry to other countries has been grante
d with an administrative waiver, as to Canada, U.S. executives of Japanese-based companies have found their landing rights denied when attempting to attend meetings at their Japanese headquarters. Protests to the Japanese Consulate in the United States have been unsuccessful.

Specifically, the Japanese Ministry of Justice has interpreted the restrictions imposed by Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act to bar entry to anyone sentenced to more than a year in prison, and anyone convicted of a drug offense, felony or misdemeanor, no matter how dated or minor. conviction.

It is hard to argue with the plain language of the law.  Section II, Article 5 of the Immigration Control Act (“Denial of Landing”) provides in relevant part as follows:

Any alien who falls under any one of the following items shall be denied permission for landing in Japan. . . . .

(4) A person who has been convicted of a violation of any law or regulation of Japan, or of any other country, and has been sentenced to imprisonment with or without labor for 1 year or more, or to an equivalent penalty except for those convicted of a political offense.

(5) A person who has been convicted of a violation of any law or regulation of Japan or of any other country relating to the control of narcotics, marijuana, opium, stimulants or psychotropic substances and sentenced to a penalty.

The Japanese Ministry of Justice, Commentaries on the Immigration Control and Refugee-Recognition Act, explains (at p. 15) that “the sentence per se suffices for the application of [item 4], and it does not matter whether the person actually served or completed the execution of the sentence.”  As to the restriction for drug convictions, the Commentaries state

Our country strictly controls these drugs under the drug-related control laws and regulations. As part of the legal controls on the use of drugs, this item prohibits the landing of any alien who has been sentenced in violation of the laws and regulations relating to the control over narcotics and the like of the country of Japan as well as of foreign countries, with a view to preventing aliens spreading the use of drugs such as narcotics in the society of Japan.

Id.  As explained on the website of the Japanese Embassy, a visa cannot be granted

If the applicant has a criminal record including narcotics, marijuana, stimulants, prostitution, etc.

Anyone granted a visa in violation of this policy may be stopped and the border and refused entry.

A visa is only a recommendation and does not automatically guarantee landing permission . . . Landing permission will be granted only if all the conditions stipulated in the Immigration Control Act, including those being checked by the immigration control officer are met.

See Embassy of Japan, FAQ on Japanese visas, questions # 9 and 3.

It appears that even ordinary vacation or relocation travel is barred by the Act and enforced by immigration officials.  For example, a 32-year old student who had been granted a visa to study for a semester at a Japanese university was sent back immediately after truthfully checking “yes” on the immigration form question “Have you ever been convicted of a crime in Japan or any other country?”  The disqualifying crime: a 14-year old possession of marijuana misdemeanor for which a $50 fine was imposed.  See Japan Times, “Barred from Japan for a teenage pot conviction.”  In a letter to high Japanese officials, the student pointed out that “the rich and famous have been able to skirt the law repeatedly.”

Paul McCartney of the Beatles was given permission to enter Japan after being caught trying to bring 7.7 oz (220 grams) of marijuana into Japan in 1980. The Rolling Stones were allowed to enter Japan despite their well-documented drug issues. More recently, Paris Hilton was given special permission to enter the country despite her multiple convictions for drugs and other crimes.

Unfortunately the Japanese immigration lawyers I have consulted with have told me that gaining special permission to enter Japan — even for a weeklong vacation — will be next to impossible. Apparently I am not rich nor famous enough to qualify for an exception to the law.

Robert Hauberg

Robert Hauberg is an attorney with Baker Donelson, where he currently leads the firm's Securities and SEC Enforcement subgroup. A former leader of the firm's Government Regulatory Actions Group, he has represented clients and companies across the globe in complex civil litigation. Prior to private practice, he served as a federal prosecutor in the DOJ's antitrust and criminal fraud divisions.

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