The International Observatory on Statelessness


Groups of concern in Japan include persons of Korean descent and some Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Burma. Fewer than 300,000 persons of Korean descent in Japan, 30 percent of the Korean population in that country, have been naturalized. Koreans living in Japan today are descendents of people that entered the country for work between 1910 and 1945, the period of Japan’s colonial rule over Korea. After the Second World War, Koreans were declared resident aliens. In the late 1970s, Koreans were granted social security and health care benefits. In 1984, children of mixed parentage could obtain citizenship through either the father or mother. In 1991, the government increased access to citizenship and other rights for former colonial subjects and their descendants.

Despite these gradual improvements, Koreans still do not receive the full benefits Japanese citizens enjoy. Only around 15 percent of local governments have permitted Korean permanent residents to vote based on a 1995 Japanese Supreme Court decision. The Ministry of Education does not recognize high school degrees from Korean schools, requiring graduates from these schools to take the same university entrance exams as drop-outs. Koreans also cannot serve in most levels of the civil service.

A small number of Rohingya, a Muslim minority from Burma, live in Japan. Not recognized as refugees by the Japanese government, they are often ordered to leave the country. Because Burma refuses their return, none has been forcibly repatriated. Some groups in Japan have urged the government to grant stateless Rohingyas special residency permits.

In 2000, Tokyo put into effect programs to protect the welfare of stateless children, whose births their mothers refused to register for fear of forcible repatriation. On June 4, 2008, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled against a nationality law that denied citizenship to children born to Japanese fathers and foreign mothers out of wedlock. Under the current law in Japan, children who are born outside of marriage to a foreign mother and Japanese father can only obtain citizenship if the father recognizes the baby before the mother gives birth.