Recent outbreaks of the novel coronavirus at U.S. military bases in Okinawa have cast renewed light on what many consider to be extraterritorial rights enjoyed by American servicemen under the decadeslong U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Under the framework, members of the U.S. armed forces are granted special dispensation from “Japanese passport and visa laws and regulations,” which enables them to fly directly into bases and circumvent the rigid virus testing regime overseen by national authorities at airports.

Their immunity to immigration oversight is the latest reminder of how SOFA personnel are all but “above the law” in Japan, echoing a litany of similar instances in the past where the bilateral framework stood in the way of national authorities’ efforts to investigate, and pursue jurisdiction over, crimes and accidents involving American servicemen — particularly in Okinawa.