Japanese living overseas are jumping aboard a campaign opposing a decision to exclude them from the popular Japan Rail Pass, a multi-journey ticket offering substantial savings.

An online petition urging the Japan Railways group to reconsider the policy change has been signed by more than 5,100 people to date.

“It’s hardly fair to discriminate against permanent overseas residents who earn a living abroad and pay taxes just on the grounds of their Japanese nationalities,” said Taka Uematsu, 42, a sportswriter residing in Brisbane.

Offered by six passenger railway companies under the JR group, the Japan Rail Pass allows foreigners visiting Japan to ride JR trains for seven to 21 days, with a few exceptions. A seven-day pass for regular cars is offered for 29,110 yen ($256).

Generally, only foreigners who are on a short-term stay for sightseeing in Japan are eligible to purchase the pass, but Japanese permanently residing in other countries are included as exceptions to “encourage the expansion of JR use during visits to Japan.”

However, the JR group announced on Nov. 11 that it will abolish the exemption for overseas Japanese at the end of March.

“Some countries don’t have the concept of permanent residency," said an official with East Japan Railway Co., one of the six companies. "We had received complaints from Japanese living in such countries that it was unfair they couldn’t purchase the pass.”

With 870,000 of them sold in fiscal 2015--a 50 percent jump from the previous fiscal year--the Japan Rail Pass has gained increasing popularity among foreigners since its introduction in 1981.

As the nation continues to experience a sharp rise in the number of visitors from abroad, the official also raised “significant changes in the environment” for excluding overseas Japanese.

But many Japanese living permanently abroad are outraged by the change.

“The move will also restrict contributions made by Japanese residing overseas who act as 'goodwill ambassadors' tying their motherland with their resident nations,” Uematsu said.

Similar passes are offered by railway operators in other nations, but are often available to all non-residents, he said.

(This article was written by Hideaki Ishiyama and Ryosuke Yamamoto.)