Alarmed by the appearance of new COVID-19 variants, Japan has re-imposed strict curbs on travelers from overseas, barring most foreign nonresidents from entry. But technicalities in the policy have sparked confusion among new visa applicants and residents over whether they need to scrap plans to leave or return to Japan. Magdalena Osumi unpicks the new rules in a Q&A.

The new curbs have triggered a sense of deja vu for non-Japanese residents, many of whom were deprived of access for months to their livelihoods and separated from families due to the country’s strict border controls. As questions — and anger — linger over the controversial policy, records and reports from behind the scenes of Japan’s fight against the pandemic have begun to emerge.

As Osumi reports, these records highlight the limits of the nation’s immigration strategy, with decisions apparently made ad hoc amid chaos, and reveal the insecure status of foreign nationals in Japan and underlying discriminatory attitudes within society toward immigrants and expatriates.

COVID-19: Japan tightens quarantine measures for arrivals from more countries | CNA
COVID-19: Japan tightens quarantine measures for arrivals from more countries | CNA

The re-entry ban certainly hasn’t done Japan’s image as a destination for expats any favors. China’s intensifying crackdown on Hong Kong had raised hopes Tokyo may finally have a better chance of competing as a destination for finance types, but Japan is still a long way from making the numbers work, Bloomberg reports.

Last month, Kyodo reported that the government plans to implement tax breaks for long-term foreign residents as part of efforts to turn Japan into a major international financial hub. Now, Japan imposes an inheritance tax on foreign nationals’ overseas assets if they live in the country for more than 10 years, but a planned special measure would make them exempt.

But inheritance tax is just one obstacle, Bloomberg points out. Finance industry stars with million-dollar salaries, for example, would have to hand over half their earnings to the government for the privilege of working in Tokyo regardless. And the difference between take-home pay on a $400,000 salary between Japan and Singapore is instructive. No wonder some big earners engineer their schedules so they spend less than half the year in Japan and don’t qualify as tax residents.