“Gaijin Gulag” Victim Christopher Johnson Discloses Visa Information ( Work Visa Application Paperwork, But No Approval? )

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    (Update [2/15/2012]: Johnson has announced what many suspected: he had been entering and leaving Japan on 90-day tourist visas. See Flyjin.com and the NBR Forum for good write-ups about the visa issue.)

    Part I: Visa status announced, then deleted

    A quick update on the ongoing tale of Christopher Johnson, a freelance journalist whose Narita Airport “Gaijin Gulag” story has been picked up by several major news websites (The Economist, Boing Boing, Reddit).

    In my last post, I noted that Johnson’s refusal to disclose his visa status had created considerable controversy about his account of detention and deportation.

    Johnson’s article is an ever-evolving work. He has been constantly editing his blog post, changing the wording of old passages and adding new information. His latest edit may have answered the big question about his visa.

    It now has a new passage (emphasis added):

    Though I had work visas dating back to 1989, and papers saying the government had acknowledged the receipt of my application to renew my work visa, I was detained at Narita airport and expelled.

    If this is correct, it seems to confirm what many people had suspected: Johnson did not have a valid work visa. Paperwork stating that the government had received an application does not grant permission to enter the country. Should immigration officers have assumed that the application would be accepted? [UPDATE: Less than two hours have passed since I made this post, and Johnson has DELETED the above-mentioned passage from his blog post! Just how are we supposed to explain that? ]

    I have been in similar situation. I applied for a visa renewal but during the month that it took to process the paperwork, my previous visa expired. I was told that I could remain in the country until I received the results of the renewal application. The validity of the re-entry permit in my passport was tied to the date of the previous visa. So if I left the country during that week of “limbo” between visas, there was a high risk that I might not be allowed back in. I was also not supposed to engage in work during the period between visas. If Johnson’s case was the same, it is baffling that he left the country before the new visa had been approved.

    Oddly enough, Johnson has not changed an older passage about the visa situation:

    I first had a work visa for Japan in 1989, and my last renewal began in 2008. I have never overstayed, and never broken laws in Japan.

    Did he apply for a renewal in 2008 and not receive a response until 2011? I might be safe to assume that one of the two passages is wrong. Maybe the most recent one? It sure is hard to fully understand a situation when the details keep changing…

    Johnson also added a passage about a “similar” case (taken from a credible source – an anonymous internet comment):

    In an account similar to my own, a Canadian using the pseudonym “mxlx3” explained his ordeal in a comment to The Economist’s Banyan blog. After 11 years working legally and paying taxes in Japan, he lost his $125,000 per year job, all his possessions in his apartment, and his Japanese fiancee, because bureaucrats messed up his renewal for a work permit. After his sponsored work visa expired, immigration officers told him to leave Japan and come back on a tourist visa while his new employment visa was being processed. But upon returning from Guam in 2002, he was detained and expelled.

    Johnson has stated today that his visa status “has been explained,” but questions remain: had the previous visa expired? Why had he left the country before the renewal was processed?

    Part II: Johnson Changes His Story Again

    Update [Jan. 26]: For the past several days, a user called “imcanjapn” had been leaving comments on the Economist’s website, closely mirroring Christopher Johnson’s statements on other sites. After several users claimed to have “outed” him as Johnson’s sockpuppet account, he disappeared.

    Now, Johnson himself has appeared on that comment thread, making new claims about his visa status:

    Those who accused me of doing “visa runs”, “over-staying” or “gaming the system” for 22 years have been proven false. I had work visas dating back to 1989, and documents from the immigration department regional office in Tokyo in 2011 that acknowledged they were processing my application to renew my visa to continue working legally in Japan as a freelance journalist. Under new regulations, I was allowed to keep my passport during this time. Immigration officers in Tokyo kindly told me several times I could leave and return to Japan during this process, thanks to new procedures. I had no problem returning to Japan, on this same basis, from trips to Canada and Germany in 2011.

    Commenting on the older version of his article, which stated that he several beers on the short morning flight, Johnson claimed that he was “not drunk or high upon arrival at Narita.”

    He continues to claim that officials did not tell him the reason why he was given an expulsion order. Once again, he has implied that the Japanese government was out to get him because of his heroic truth-telling. Supposedly, Johnson used to work for NHK World, but was “blacklisted” by them because he started spreading the word about how NHK was “squandering of millions of yen of taxpayers funds on cash-cow programs which can’t be seen in Japan.” (Isn’t that the whole point of NHK World – to make programs for an audience outside Japan?)

    If his latest claim about visa status is true, one wonders why he has evaded answering questions about his visa. Why would he hide that information, and lash out at people who asked about it? Why in the world would he leave such critical details out of the original version of his story. It makes no sense at all. Few of his critics are likely to trust him now.

    One user on the FG forums responded to Johnson’s new claims with the following:

    “Maybe Chris Johnson was lucky on his earlier entries, maybe they were during the life of the previous visa, or maybe the decision not to allow his renewal was made coincidentally during his time in Korea. Maybe he misunderstood what Immigration were telling him, and looked at it all a bit too optimistically.

    Or maybe it is a global world conspiracy by NHK, Serbians and the nuclear industry specifically targetting him. I wonder which is more likely.”

    Extra: Unlike those other foreigners…..

    Update: Reading over Johnson’s article, I noticed one interesting passage in his blog post (emphasis added):

    But I didn’t flee Japan like thousands of foreigners after the March 11 disasters. I made personal sacrifices to tell the world about the plight of disaster victims, to generate sympathy for Japan. I earned income from sources outside Japan, and spent it inside Japan.

    I thought this whole “flyjin” issue was behind most of us, but since Johnson wants to bring it up, let’s take a look at the record. Some quick Googling found that Johnson did indeed stay in Japan after the disaster. However, while millions of us stayed at our homes and workplaces in Tokyo, Johnson joined the panic-stricken and got the got on a bullet train.

    On March 16th, Canada’s CTV network aired a telephone interview with Johnson, who has bravely decided to stay in the city of Hamamatsu..which he claims could still be in harm’s way. Johnson implies that the people who didn’t flee Tokyo were the ones who had given in to fear.

    (In the video, CTV has erroneously included “On the line from: Tokyo” at the top of the screen.)

    —-Begin Transcript——

    News anchor asked him how close he is to the exposed areas.

    CHRIS JOHNSON: “…I’m not sure if I’m in the exposed area or not…..[explains that Hamamatsu is “a little over a hundred kilometers” southwest of Tokyo]…I decided to come here so that I could still be close to Tokyo but…uh…I wanted to get out before there was any sort of mass attempt at an escape…[mentions strong winds near Hamamatsu]….But if…if there is a meltdown, I am going to try to get down to Osaka or anywhere south, if I can.”

    News anchor asked him if he is personally concerned.

    CHRIS JOHNSON: “I think everybody is…COUGH excuse me..I am one of the LAST people I know to leave Tokyo. All my friends left earlier. Basically anybody that had small children we-were leaving. When I took the bullet train, the high speed Shinkansen bullet train here, it was just full of Japanese mothers with their babies. While their husbands were still working in Tokyo today. But even…uh…Sony for example..uhm..normally has 6,000 people working at their headquarters. They only had about 120 today. Everybody else has left.”

    News anchor asks where people are going.

    CHRIS JOHNSON: “They try to go to where they have relatives in other parts of the country that are outside the disaster zone. Or a lot of them go to Osaka, stay in hotels. In fact, I am told the Austrian embassy has relocated to Osaka. A lot of foreign journalists have moved down there too. So everybody is just sort of waiting and watching…and uh..fearful about the situation. But there are a lot of people still in Tokyo and a lot of people are not able to leave. They don’t know where to go. They don’t have a lot of money and a lot of people are sort of paralyzed with with shock and fear…”

    —-End Transcript——

    Small Update: Johnson’s own Twitter posts have directly contradicted the claims he made on Canadian television:

    So on TV in March he claimed that all his friends had fled. On Twitter in January 2011, he’s saying that a large number of his friends did stay. So, which is it? They can’t both be true.

    There you have it: Christopher Johnson did not flee Japan like thousands of other foreigners. No way. He only contributed to the English language news reports that exaggerated the exodus from Tokyo and encouraged others to flee. For his heroic service, he apparently deserves special treatment at immigration checkpoints.

    For the latest information, check out these discussion threads about Johnson’s article:

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