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Starting Monday, business travelers — both those visiting Japan for work and individuals coming back to Japan from a business trip, regardless of nationality — only need to observe a shortened quarantine period of three days if they meet certain criteria.

That is great news for companies who have been keen to resume face-to-face meetings in Japan and overseas but had been putting them off because of a ban on new entries or quarantine requirements of 10 to 14 days depending on vaccination status.

But looking at the details, the easing of travel rules may not be as good as it sounds. In fact, business travelers and their companies need to jump through a considerable number of hoops to be eligible for a shortened quarantine period.

For instance, it’s possible that some companies would need to prepare weeks in advance — if not earlier — before sending an employee to Japan for a business trip.

“While the ACCJ welcomes the travel policy change … we urge Japan to move as rapidly as possible to eliminate quarantines and to simplify and eventually eliminate sponsorship procedures for vaccinated travelers,” said Christopher LaFleur, special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), in an email response.

In a policy proposal unveiled on Monday, the Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren, called the eased rules a “big step” but added that fully vaccinated travelers should be exempted from quarantine in line with other countries.

Western countries like the United States, France, Italy, Australia and Britain have exempted quarantine for vaccinated visitors, while China and India still require a 14-day quarantine for all.

Keidanren also called for the digitalization of all necessary documents in order to speed up the process at airports and immigration, where visitors currently must wait for officials to check the paperwork.

According to the health ministry website, the company of business travelers — limited to fully vaccinated individuals who are not traveling in countries listed on the Foreign Ministry website where cases are higher — will need to submit the following documents online and have them approved beforehand:

The documents need to be submitted to the relevant ministries, depending on the industry of the business traveler. It is not immediately clear how long the approval process will take.

Once the documents have been approved, they can apply for a visa, if necessary, at a Japanese embassy or consulate abroad. In addition, travelers still need to show a negative COVID-19 test result.

After entering Japan, business travelers need to stick to the activities laid out in the plan they’ve submitted through day 10, during which they will be allowed to use public transportation only if they have reserved seats. They also need to be tested on the day of arrival, on day 3 and on day 10 before they are free of entry restrictions.

It may take a week or two before the first travelers to be granted a shorter coronavirus quarantine period arrive in the country, a health ministry official said.

Companies must also submit a report on how those travelers behaved during their time in Japan, including whether they followed the rules and whether they tested positive for COVID-19 after entering Japan.

New entries such as foreign students and technical interns will also be allowed for the first time in nearly a year, provided that they quarantine for 14 days, which will be shortened to 10 days if they are vaccinated.

They will also need to go through similar processes and paperwork to business travelers, which must be preapproved before they can enter Japan.

Foreign students who received residence permits between January 2020 and March 2020 will be allowed to apply in November. For technical interns, applications will be accepted for those with residence permits from January 2020 through June 2020. Those with permits issued at a later date can apply in December or later.

For questions regarding the application process, the government has set up a hotline at 03-3595-2176, which is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., including weekends. For frequently asked questions online, visit the website in Japanese.

Despite the hurdles, many universities who accept foreign exchange students are delighted by the news.

“It is a joy for us that the entry restrictions are being eased, considering that many foreign students have been waiting to study at our campus and many existing students and teachers are looking forward to face-to-face mingling in a multicultural environment,” said Hiroshi Yoneyama, deputy dean of Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Oita Prefecture, which accepts many foreign students.

“I’m looking forward to meeting international students at APU as early as possible,” he said in a statement last week.

In January, Japan suspended the new entry of foreign nationals, including business people, in principle, following an explosive virus resurgence and the spread of highly contagious variants.

Since then, the country has only accepted individuals under “special circumstances,” such as on humanitarian grounds.

While Japan plans to continue denying entry to tourists, the government has begun considering how to accept such visitors by the end of this year.

The number of coronavirus cases has declined in Japan following this summer’s fifth wave, and economic activities have further resumed.

Information from Kyodo added

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