Japan will allow some resident foreigners to re-enter the country on humanitarian grounds after facing criticism its policies made their return uncertain and left the group in a Covid-19 travel limbo.
A notice on the Justice Ministry’s website says permission to land may be granted “depending on the individual situation if there are special exceptional circumstances, particularly such as when there are circumstances that require humanitarian consideration.”
In a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Japan had banned entry from 111 countries and regions, including the US, Europe and India. Unlike many other advanced economies, it included permanent residents who call Japan home and spouses of Japanese nationals among those forbidden to enter.
Japan had encouraged foreign workers to come to the country to ease a labor shortage resulting from its aging and shrinking population. The number of foreign workers almost doubled to 1.5 million in 2019.
Some resident foreigners are currently stuck outside the country, while others have missed family funerals overseas due to the travel ban, sparking an online campaign for a change in policy. Japanese nationals, though discouraged from traveling, are permitted to return.
Japan Welcomed Foreign Workers Then Left Them in Covid-19 Limbo
Public broadcaster NHK, which reported the news, said immigration authorities had given examples such as visiting a dying relative, attending a family funeral, or the need to attend follow-up exams after undergoing surgery overseas. The Immigration Services Agency did not immediately respond to a request for further details.
Japan, whose strict border measures are set to stay in place at least until the end of June, has said it’s in discussions with Vietnam about the resumption of business travel between the two countries. The Asahi newspaper and others have said the country is also considering loosening restrictions on travel with Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, all of which have relatively few cases of the disease.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has said loosening of Japan’s borders in general is likely to start with business travel and visits by experts, followed by foreign students, with tourism likely to come later.
The country’s travel policies are set to come to the test next year when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics, which were pushed back by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.