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Speculation is rife that Tokyo will soon ease a much-criticized ban on allowing re-entry of long-term foreign workers in Japan who are stranded abroad under the nation’s strict entry ban imposed following the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Japan’s entry ban, which was first imposed on April 3 and now has 129 countries and regions on the list, has been blasted by Japan’s expatriate community for rendering at least hundreds of its legal foreign residents unable to return to their homes in Japan.

The ban has also affected all foreign residents who want to or were planning to leave Japan after the imposition regardless of their visa statuses.

Currently, Japan only allows re-entry under special circumstances for people with certain visa statuses who had left the country before the ban was introduced or on humanitarian grounds such as a relative’s death or a health emergency.

Citing government sources, Jiji Press reported Monday that the government plans to include expatriate workers and educators to the scope of non-Japanese residents eligible for re-entry. Broadcaster NHK also said that the government is expected to grant re-entry permission to business operators from the United States and Europe who are based in Japan.

According to the sources cited in the reports, re-entry will require polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for the coronavirus.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday didn’t confirm the reports, only saying that further relaxation of the restrictions is an “important issue.”

“Ministries overseeing border enforcement measures and procedures are discussing whom to allow re-entry and what scheme will enable international workers who are important in helping the economy recover to return while allowing Japan to prevent viral transmissions,” he said during a regular news conference.

Officials from both the Immigration Services Agency and the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that no arrangements have yet been made. The government reportedly is expected to make an official decision on allowing re-entry by the end of this week.

The move, however, is expected to prioritize business people with skills needed to help recover the nation’s stalling economy.

Japan is already in talks on further relaxing business travel with Vietnam, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand and is set to start negotiations by the end of July to relaunch business travel between 10 Asian territories including China, South Korea and Taiwan.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) has joined in calls for Japan to adopt the approach of other Group of Seven countries to allow foreigners with established residency status and their immediate family members to enter the country on the same basis as Japanese nationals.

“Foreign residents of Japan who have made a decision to build a life here and contribute to the Japanese economy should not be subject to a double standard restricting their travel, economic, and familial opportunities based on nationality,” said ACCJ Chairman Christopher LaFleur in a statement.

He stressed the prohibition currently in place is detrimental to Japan’s long-term interests, in particular as to Japan’s attractiveness as a place to invest and post managerial employees.

“Foreign nationals actively and positively contribute to Japan’s economy and society and do not pose any greater risk than Japanese citizens re-entering Japan,” the ACCJ statement said.

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