Japan to relax ban on foreign residents returning to the country

  • 2 months   ago
Japan to relax ban on foreign residents
Japan is planning to relax a coronavirus entry ban that discriminates against foreign residents because of fears it undermines business competitiveness and damages Tokyo’s reputation as a financial centre.
 
Under the rules, Japanese citizens can enter the country subject to a Covid-19 test and quarantine, but foreign residents who left after April 2 cannot return. Officials said the restrictions were due to limits on Covid-19 testing capacity and that they aimed to lift them as soon as possible.
 
The rules have made Japan the only G7 country to discriminate between citizens and foreign residents with Covid-19 entry restrictions, raising questions about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to attract foreign workers and promote Tokyo as a business centre.
 
Long-term residents of Japan have faced wrenching decisions, knowing that if they travelled to deal with emergencies overseas they would be unable to return to their families. Others have been stranded in their countries of origin. A change is expected within weeks but officials warned that no formal decision had been made.
 
“If the idea that Japan is exclusionary and difficult for foreigners takes root, then in the medium-term it will greatly reduce Japan’s appeal and may cause innovation to stagnate,” said Hiroshi Mikitani, the billionaire founder of internet company Rakuten, on behalf of Japan’s main association of technology companies.
 
The discriminatory entry policy is a setback to Mr Abe’s long-running efforts to promote Japan as open to the world and attract more highly skilled foreign residents.
 
Since taking office in 2012, the prime minister has relaxed visa rules and attracted a record number of foreign guest workers to compensate for Japan’s falling population.
 
By highlighting the second-class status of foreign residents, the entry policy threatened to deter companies from placing staff in Tokyo, undermining an effort to attract banks concerned about the new national security law in Hong Kong.
 
“Clearly the policy with respect to long-term foreign residents of Japan is discriminatory,” said Christopher LaFleur, chair of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
 
“When you think about it in terms of presenting Japan as a reliable location for your business, then it’s certainly an unusual policy stance to take.”
 
Foreign business groups said the rules hindered regular rotations of staff and made it impossible for specialists such as engineers to come and go. Eighty-six per cent of European companies polled said the entry restrictions had harmed their business, said Michael Mroczek, president of the European Business Council.
 
Immigration officials insisted that they had no wish to discriminate and that the policy was a result of the exceptional circumstances at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, when the disease was running wild in Europe, and Japan had limited capacity to test for the virus.
 
“The reality is that our capacity for [polymerase chain reaction] tests was limited. We had to differentiate in some way between those who could enter and those who could not,” said one senior Japanese immigration official.
 
“If we had to distinguish, then to say that foreign residents can re-enter while Japanese citizens have to wait would be difficult.”
 
As constraints on testing capacity ease, Japan aims to reduce its entry restrictions, starting with students and long-term foreign residents. If those who are admitted do not fall ill and occupy hospital beds, Japan will then start to admit other groups.

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