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Immigration authorities have said they will allow foreign nationals whose re-entry permits and visas have expired while they were abroad to return to Japan.

The Justice Ministry announced on its website earlier this week that non-Japanese residents who left Japan before the end of August but were unable to return before the period of validity of their re-entry permits expired, would also be able to seek re-entry under special circumstances described as humanitarian reasons.

On Tuesday, the government relaxed its entry restrictions for foreign nationals with valid statuses of residency in the nation, allowing them to travel abroad and re-enter the country. However, the news sparked concerns that people whose visas or re-entry permission had expired during the pandemic may not be allowed to return until Japan entirely lifts its entry restrictions on travelers from abroad.

The Immigration Services Agency has said that people whose re-entry permits expired after they left Japan temporarily will be issued a certificate of eligibility (CoE), a document confirming they meet the conditions for landing in Japan and are eligible for a visa. To receive the CoE, those planning to re-enter must complete procedures at local immigration authorities — such as their nearest Japanese Embassy or consular office — under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry.

The arrangement for people with expired re-entry permits also covers those whose visas expired completely while they were abroad, and people with valid residence cards who were exempted from obtaining an ordinary re-entry permit but were not able to come back to Japan within a year of their date of departure.

Despite the partial relaxation, the entry restrictions on travelers without Japanese passports — which were introduced in April as a temporary measure aimed at curbing the spread of the virus — remain in place and now cover 159 countries and regions. Non-Japanese returnees are also subject to strict re-entry procedures including pre-entry tests for COVID-19, which need to be conducted in line with the government’s guidelines on testing methods within 72 hours prior to one’s departure for Japan.

The officials said, however, that in health emergencies and other urgent cases such as childbirth, to visit a sick family member or to attend the funeral of a relative in Japan, travelers will be exempted from the requirement to undergo novel coronavirus tests before their travel to Japan. In those situations, travelers will need to submit additional supporting documentation.

The officials have not yet confirmed when people waiting for new visas will be able to come to Japan, but said that the period of validity for CoE issued between Oct. 1, 2019, and Jan. 29, 2021, would be extended.

The announcement, which was posted in Japanese, has not yet been translated into other languages.

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