Japan began restricting entry to non-citizens from countries hit hard by Covid-19 coronavirus on April 3. The list now extends to 111 countries and regions and applies not just to tourists, but also to foreign residents of Japan attempting to return from overseas. Even after the Japanese government lifted the state of emergency in May, the entry ban remained in place.
According to The Japan Times, some foreign residents who left Japan temporarily for family reasons have found themselves stranded abroad. Although the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) said that foreign residents were allowed re-entry under certain circumstances, until now, it has not given any specifics or examples of what those circumstances are.
The Ministry of Justice website was updated on May 27, announcing that foreign residents will be allowed re-entry into Japan under ‘special exceptional circumstances’, including those which ‘require humanitarian consideration’. According to NHK, ISA said these circumstances would include attending a memorial or funeral service, or requiring ‘follow-up exams after surgery abroad’.
However, The Japan Times quotes an unnamed ISA official who oversees travel restriction procedures, saying, ‘The reality is we’ve been allowing foreigners to return on humanitarian grounds regardless of their visa status all this time’. Apparently, the humanitarian language was added to clarify the situation after ISA received a large number of enquiries from the country's foreign residents who are currently overseas.
Foreign residents in Japan include anyone with a visa status of permanent resident, spouse or child of a Japanese national or permanent resident, and long term residents, in addition to those holding working visas. Japan is the only country in the Group of Seven still denying re-entry to its foreign residents, and has been under international pressure to change its stance.
For business travellers and tourists, on the other hand, it appears that there is light at the end of the tunnel as Japan is considering a travel bubble with Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand.
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