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Speculation is growing that Japan will soon reopen its borders to non-Japanese residents, allowing those who have left the country during the pandemic to return regardless of the purpose of their trip abroad.

Citing government sources, public broadcaster NHK said that starting from September, Japan will grant permission to return to all foreign nationals with valid visas who temporarily left the country but have not yet received permission to re-enter. The report was vague on whether the planned change would apply to those who have already temporarily left the country and are still abroad, or whether it would cover those who are planning to leave.

The entry ban on overseas travelers, which was introduced on April 3 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, denies entry to nearly all of its foreign legal residents. The government has only exempted long-term residence visa holders, permanent residents along with their spouses and children, as well as Japanese nationals who had departed the country before it added their destinations to its entry ban list, which following the latest update on July 24 covers 146 countries and regions.

On Aug. 5, Japan began to also let in students and workers with valid visas who had left before the imposition of the entry ban. But those who left the country after the ban was introduced needed permission from immigration officials, who would only grant permission in cases involving such things as health emergencies or to attend the funeral of relatives.

According to NHK, from September, foreign residents wanting to return will no longer need such permission, regardless of their situation.

The report was published amid growing criticism of unequal treatment and calls to lift the ban on legal residents, which stands in stark contrast with the treatment of the foreign community by the rest of the Group of Seven.

NHK hinted that foreign residents may be allowed to enter Japan on the same conditions as Japanese nationals, who are required to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests upon arrival and self-isolate for 14 days at hotels or other facilities. At the same time, the government is planning to expand testing capacity at major international airports such as at Narita, Haneda and Kansai to 10,000.

But as of Friday, the Immigration Services Agency could not confirm the planned revision.

An ISA official who oversees entry procedures told The Japan Times over the phone that the agency has not yet been notified of any changes to the conditions for re-entry.

Currently, returnees are required to submit PCR test results conducted within 72 hours prior to their departure as the main requirement for re-entry. In its recent announcement, the Foreign Ministry said that from Sept. 1 all foreign nationals, including permanent residents, will be covered under the stricter entry procedures, which may remain in place.

The ISA was not able to confirm whether the government will only grant a one-time re-entry permit to return to those stranded abroad or when it will lift the ban on foreign residents completely, allowing them to freely travel outside the country.

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