The Justice Ministry launched a new program Tuesday to allow repeat visitors to Japan to complete the immigration entry process at unmanned gates, a move aimed at cutting wait times.
Under the Trusted Traveler Program, the Immigration Bureau now lets low-risk travelers — such as foreign nationals who come to Japan often on business — use automated gates for short-term stays.
Automated gates are already in use at four major airports — Narita, Haneda, Chubu Centrair and Kansai. But they had only been available for Japanese nationals and foreign residents of Japan who pre-registered. The new initiative opens the gate for frequent visitors, a Justice Ministry official said Tuesday.
An applicant must meet certain requirements to register as a trusted traveler, including being employed full time at a public or private organization for a year and having visited Japan at least twice within the 12-month period prior to arrival.
To be entered into the program, applicants need to submit the necessary information prior to arrival.
After passing the Immigration Bureau’s screening process and going through an interview with an official upon entry, visitors will receive an identification card that they can use starting with their next trip.
The program is open to travelers from 67 countries where Japanese visa exemptions apply, including the United States, Canada, Australia, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan.
However, the program does not apply to visitors from China, the largest source of foreign tourists to Japan.
If it proves successful, the government may consider making the automated gates available for visitors who come for sightseeing, the official said.
The program is part of the overall 2020 Tokyo Olympics effort to lure foreign visitors by making the time-consuming passport control entry process less burdensome, the official said.
According to the Justice Ministry, it often took visitors in 2015 as long as 38 minutes to complete the examination process at Kansai International. In the same year at Chubu Centrair in Aichi Prefecture, it took 26 minutes.
In a related move last month, the Justice Ministry introduced a new mobile unit dubbed Bio Cart at three airports handling international flights — Kansai, Takamatsu and Naha — to allow foreign visitors to register their biometric data such as fingerprints and facial photo while waiting in line at ports of entry.
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