National / Social Issues

Japan to dial back entry restrictions on some foreign residents

by Satoshi Sugiyama

STAFF WRITER

The Japanese government on Wednesday announced it will partially roll back entry restrictions as part of its coronavirus countermeasures on foreign nationals, allowing students and business workers with valid legal status to be gradually readmitted to the country.

The rule change will affect just under 200,000 foreign nationals seeking to enter Japan. Those eligible will comprise about 103,000 permanent residents, long-term residents and spouses of Japanese nationals or permanent residents. Those permanent residents as well as long-term residents had been able to return to Japan if they had left the country before the ban was introduced or on humanitarian grounds, such as a relative’s death or a health emergency.

But with this announcement, about 88,000 high-skilled workers and students who had left Japan with permission to re-enter before the entry ban was imposed would also be eligible to be readmitted. Of the 88,000, about 42 percent are from China, 11 percent from Vietnam and about 3 percent from the United States. Those who left Japan after the ban are not covered by the updated regulation.

Government officials said those eligible will be able to return to Japan regardless of their nationality or visa status. Upon entering Japan, they need to present proof that they have passed a virus test before leaving their country of origin.

It is not clear when the revised rule will be implemented, but the date will reportedly be some time in August.

At the government coronavirus task force meeting Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will consider a separate entry framework for athletes ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Games, as well as relaxing entry restrictions on business travelers from 12 Asian territories.

Those territories are Cambodia, Singapore, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Macao, Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mongolia, Laos and Taiwan. The travelers need to self-quarantine for 14 days, pass a virus test and avoid using public transportation. The government will consider a similar framework for business travelers outside of those 12 territories as well.

“It’s important to gradually resume the international movement of people,” Abe said.

The decision was made to tame criticism that Japan’s stringent border controls in the name of curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus are making the country less appealing for foreign businesses. Business industry groups have persistently lobbied the central government to amend its entry restrictions imposed on foreign nationals.

Japan is the only country among the Group of Seven nations that imposes such strict bans targeting nonnative permanent and long-term residents.

As of Thursday, Japan had forbid foreign travelers from 146 countries and regions from entering the country, even if they were permanent residents or long-term residents. The foreign ministry this week added 17 countries and areas including Venezuela, Somalia and Palestine. The entry ban will remain in effect through at least the end of August, Abe said.

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