Immigration Bureau’s relaxed visa policy has boosted tourism from southeast Asia, but it seems to have come with an unwanted side-effect.

Japan has been welcoming record numbers of foreign visitors in the past few years, and not all of them arrive via Narita, Haneda, or one of the other major airports. As an island nation, boat travel is a viable option in getting to Japan, and thanks to easing of government regulations there’s been a huge increase in the number of travelers taking cruise ships to Japan.

In 2014, roughly 410,000 foreign travelers arrived in Japan via cruise ship, but in 2018 that number grew to 2.44 million. The sextupling is largely credited to an amendment to Japan’s Immigration Control Act which went into effect on January 1, 2015, called the Ship Tourism Landing Permit System.

Under the system, foreign visitors who arrive on ships approved by Japan’s Immigration Bureau, have booked passage home on the same vessel, and provide their fingerprints (via electronic scan upon arrival in Japan) can have their visa requirement waived, and also don’t need to be photographed when going through immigration. While this might not be a major change for visitors from countries such as the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, and Korea (citizens of which are allowed to stay in Japan for at least 90 days without a prior visa), the Ship Tourism Landing Permit System has made travel to Japan from China and a number of southeast Asian countries much easier, and the relaxed policy has led to a rapid increase in the number of cruise trips traveling from China to Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu (the closest to China out of Japan’s four main islands).

▼ Nagasaki, one of the prefectures that make up Kyushu

However, with the increase of visitors has also come an increase in the number of foreign cruise passengers who disappear after arriving in Japan, and ostensibly are living/working in the country illegally. In 2018, 106 foreign cruise passengers who got off their boat in Japan never came back for the return trip, nor have they been recorded leaving the country by any other means. 2018 was the first time the number of disappearances was over 100, and represents a sudden jump from the 21 cases in 2015. In 2018, Nagasaki Prefecture itself was the entry point for more than 20 overseas cruise travelers who vanished.

While the five-fold jump from 21 to 106 disappearances between 2015 and 2018 is slightly less than the six-times growth in foreign cruise visitors between 2014 and 2018, it’s still startling enough that the Japanese government is taking notice. Last July, the Immigration Bureau refused to renew the Ship Tourism Landing Permit System status of a cruise ship which had repeatedly had passengers disappear in Japan, the first time a vessel has had its renewal request denied. The bureau is also asking for greater diligence from cruise operators in vetting passengers who are taking the cruise with the intention of illegally residing in Japan after arriving, and also moving towards greater scrutiny of passenger lists with the possibility of rejecting entry to passengers deemed to be at risk of disappearing.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Hachima Kiko, Immigration Bureau of Japan
Top image: Gahag
Insert image: Pakutaso