FUKUOKA--A high court here recognized for the first time that foreign residents are eligible to receive the same public assistance as Japanese.
The Fukuoka High Court was ruling Nov. 15 in an appeal brought by a 79-year-old woman of Chinese nationality with permanent resident status living in Oita city. She had sought to nullify a decision by the city government to deny her social welfare payments.
The Oita District Court rejected the woman's initial lawsuit on grounds she did not have Japanese citizenship.
In overturning the lower court ruling, the Fukuoka High Court also instructed the Oita city government to rescind its decision denying the woman welfare payments.
Under the law, foreign nationals are not deemed eligible to receive social welfare. But in actual practice, welfare payments have been allowed if they met the same conditions applied to Japanese welfare recipients, such as being a permanent resident, and in terms of income standards.
However, because the status of many foreigners is unstable, there has been no legal recourse until now of appealing any decision by a municipal government to reject a welfare application.
The latest court verdict recognizes the legal standing of permanent resident foreigners to receive welfare payments and paves the way for formal legal procedures to appeal decisions denying welfare payments.
Presiding Judge Hiroshi Koga said in the verdict, "(Permanent resident foreigners) and other foreigners coming under a certain category are eligible for legal protection by applying mutatis mutandis, the Public Assistance Law."
The law states that only those with Japanese citizenship are eligible to receive public assistance, but, in fact, many foreigners living in Japan have received welfare payments.
In 1954, the central government issued a directive to local governments instructing them to distribute welfare payments to foreigners in line with the provisions of the Public Assistance Law.
In 1990, eligibility was limited to those foreigners who could be expected to lead independent lives because there were no legal restrictions on their working in Japan.
However, local governments were also instructed to not allow foreigners to submit appeals of decisions, even if they were permanent residents.
The verdict by the Oita District Court ruled that the decision by the Oita city government to deny welfare payments was correct because under the law foreigners do not have the right to public assistance, and the city decision was based on the fact the woman had foreign citizenship.
The Fukuoka High Court focused on what happened after Japan ratified the refugee treaty for implementation from 1982. That ratification led to the deletion of the citizenship provision from the public pension law. In the case of the Public Assistance Law, the court ruled that the central government decided to maintain the practice of applying provisions to foreigners through a directive rather than by revising the law.
The high court ruled, "The central government recognized that it bore a certain obligation from the standpoint of international and domestic laws of providing public assistance to foreigners within a certain range."
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