Business

ACCJ calls for equal treatment of non-Japanese residents hit by travel ban

by Magdalena Osumi

STAFF WRITER

The head of an American business lobby group in Japan has urged the government to ensure equal treatment of its non-Japanese residents, who have been affected by the nation’s strict restrictions on re-entering the country as part of measures implemented to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Christopher LaFleur, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (ACCJ), joined in calls for Japanese authorities to allow foreign nationals with established residency status and their immediate family to depart and enter the country on the same basis as Japanese nationals.

“What we are asking is that the rules governing travel out of and back to Japan by its residents are established on a consistent and equitable basis,” LaFleur told The Japan Times in an interview Thursday.

Japan’s entry ban, which was first imposed on April 3 and now applies to those traveling from or via 129 countries, has been blasted by the nation’s expatriate community for leaving hundreds of foreign nationals with legal residency status in the country stranded abroad — or in fear of leaving lest they be prevented from coming back home.

In contrast, Japanese nationals traveling from abroad are only required to undergo tests for the novel coronavirus and self-isolate for 14 days after their return.

“We would argue that the same conditions applied to the foreign community would not increase Japan’s risk whatsoever and therefore would be a more equitable arrangement,” the former Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said.

LaFleur said the limitations on re-entry and a lack of clarity about when and under what conditions the restrictions would be lifted have affected a large number of American businesses and its citizens working in Japan.

“So definitely people in the ACCJ, just as in the business community as a whole in Japan, are feeling the effects of this crisis,” he said.

Christopher LaFleur | ACCJ
Christopher LaFleur | ACCJ

In a statement released by the ACCJ earlier in July, LaFleur called for the government to adopt the approach of other G7 countries and allow foreign nationals with established residency status and their immediate family members to depart and enter the country on the same basis as Japanese nationals.

The group has expressed concerns that application of the entry ban to foreign nationals who have a permanent abode, family and work base in Japan is detrimental to the country’s long-term interests, “in particular as to Japan’s attractiveness as a place to invest and station managerial employees with regional responsibility.”

He explained that the pandemic has taken its toll on many ACCJ members involved in providing information or technical services, hotel operations and construction, as well as travel businesses and other ventures, and that the negative effects of the epidemic had been exacerbated by the travel limitations.

LaFleur added that in many cases ability to travel is directly related to the ability of business owners and workers in Japan to operate and continue to operate effectively in its society.

He noted that allowing foreign residents back into the country is “in the best interests of Japan” given that foreign nationals who are consumers and taxpayers are active contributors to the economy and society, and should be granted the same protections as Japanese nationals.

“And I’m afraid that (Japan’s) policy with respect to travel, during the pandemic, really has received a great deal of attention in the foreign community and certainly is not going to help Japan win more foreign investment or business,” he added.

The effects of Japan’s strict limitations on re-entry are also felt beyond businesses in the American community, especially by non-Japanese residents whose visa statuses do not qualify for exemption from certain regulations.

Only foreign residents with permanent residency, long-term resident visa holders and the spouses and children of permanent residents and Japanese nationals are allowed to re-enter Japan, and only if they left before their destination was put on the entry ban list. Others may seek exemption from the ban on humanitarian grounds, which are applied in limited situations.

The government was expected to relax its restrictions, and has been in talks with about a dozen Asian countries to resume flights between those countries and Japan to allow entry to people considered important for helping the nation’s economy recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

But so far it has failed to clarify any criteria or a time frame for granting permission to return to residents with valid visas who have been stranded abroad.

”Making the opportunity to travel available on an equitable basis, we think is going to be very important, very valuable and beneficial for both foreign community and for Japan,” LaFleur said.

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