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It’s hard to list the stories of every person still stuck outside of Japan due to the country’s border policies, but two of them show just how complicated the situation can get.

Philip, a long-time resident of Japan who spoke on condition of anonymity, left Nagano for the Philippines for what was supposed to be a week-long holiday in March. As the coronavirus spread to Southeast Asia, he got stuck on the island he was staying on for several weeks.

In mid-April, he caught a government-sponsored flight to his native Australia, where he has been waiting while trying to get back to Japan.

In the meantime, Philip’s visa and residency card have expired, leaving him in limbo. Because his Japanese visa is for business management (he runs his own construction firm and ski chalet), there is nobody who can write a Certificate of Eligibility for him — a situation that doesn’t seem to have been anticipated when the current entry procedures were created.

While waiting for the situation to be resolved, Philip is racking up expenses in Japan, including rent for his office, utility bills and parking fees for his car at Narita Airport. Foundations on partially-completed building projects are sitting uncovered, and will be damaged once the snow starts falling. His customers are irate and he is worried he may be sued.

“I worked hard over the past five years to build up my business, and now it’s going down the drain,” he says.

Other long-term residents are facing the need to quickly return to the country in order to keep their current visa valid. Permanent resident Maryse Gregoire was visiting the United States in January before the pandemic was a concern, and had planned to return April 4 but her flight was canceled. Not expecting to be outside of Japan for long, she had applied for a one-year re-entry permit, so if she doesn’t return to Japan before Jan. 3, she will lose her permanent residency status.

At 50 years old she also has concerns about traveling during the pandemic, especially given the recent rise in cases. Also, to help with her finances during her unexpected extended stay abroad, she had to take a contract job, and her employer has prohibited her from traveling to Japan due to the infection risk. She has contacted the Japanese Consulate in New York numerous times, but they refuse to extend her special re-entry permit. She will now need to start the permanent residence application process all over again, starting from a spousal visa.

Gregoire is incredulous that an exception can’t be made for the extenuating circumstances, and in consideration of her long ties to Japan.

“I’ve spent nearly 20 years in Japan, raised three children who are Japanese citizens, worked and volunteered tirelessly at day care centers, libraries, preschools and elementary schools in an effort to educate the youth of Japan and this is how I am treated? It makes my blood boil,” she says.

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