print PRINT

SCIENCE > Health

Western nations see Japan’s reentry restrictions for permanent residents as problematic

  • July 28, 2020
  • , Nikkei , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

As part of its COVID-19 countermeasures, the government will continue its partial restriction of reentry by permanent residents for the time being. There are no provisions in international law requiring nations to allow the reentry of foreigners with permanent residency status. Western nations have treated their permanent residents in the same way as their own nationals in terms of reentry and see Japan’s handling of the matter as problematic. The government is faced with the difficulty of balancing humanitarian concerns with measures to fight the spread of COVID-19.


As of July 27, Japan in principle denies entry by foreigners from 146 countries and regions, including the United States, China, South Korea, and the European Union (EU). Even foreigners based in Japan cannot in principle reenter the country if they left the country on or after April 3, the day on which Japan substantially increased the number of nations whose nationals are denied entry to Japan.


Exception made for those who left Japan on or before April 2


Only permanent residents and foreign spouses of Japanese who left Japan on or before April 2 are permitted reentry to Japan. This is because many of them left Japan without knowing they would be unable to reenter the country. Businesspeople and international students will be added to their number. In these cases, reentry is permitted as an exception. Some permanent residents will continue to be unable to return to Japan.


Article 13, paragraph 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”


Article 12, paragraph 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is part of the International Covenants on Human Rights, states “Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.”


In regard to reentry, the provisions affirm the right for nationals to return to their own nation, but this is not specifically stipulated for foreigners. In actuality, each nation sets forth the conditions for allowing or disallowing reentry in its domestic law.


Although there are no specific stipulations in international law that explicitly define permanent resident, it is considered to be people who are permitted to live permanently in their country of residence and have no restrictions on their activities there. Some countries treat permanent residents the same as their own nationals and grant them the right to vote. In Japan, foreigners can receive permanent residency if they have fulfilled certain conditions, including living in Japan for 10 years in principle.


Even after the outbreak of COVID-19, all G7 nations except for Japan have allowed their permanent residents to reenter the country in the same way as their own nationals can. In the U.S., green card holders and their families can reenter the United States even if they are coming from nations or regions whose nationals are denied entry.


Germany and France allow reentry of permanent residents and EU citizens. In addition, these two nations do not deny reentry to residency status holders who are based in their home countries, such as businesspeople and international students.


Article 12, paragraph 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” In the General Comments adopted in 1999, the committee on the international covenant on civil and political rights expresses the view that “own country” is broader than the concept of “country of nationality.” The Japanese government takes the position that “own country” means “country of nationality.”


Kobe University professor emeritus Kentaro Serita points out: “’Own country’ is generally interpreted to mean not only country of nationality but also to include the nation where one resides permanently.” He continues: “At the very least, permanent residents should be granted reentry on the same terms as Japanese.”


More and more to be subject to PCR tests


Western countries are critical of the Japanese government’s restriction on reentry from a humanitarian perspective. Through diplomatic channels and other means, they are asking the Japanese government to relax the restrictions as their impact on the work and families of their nationals who are based in Japan becomes prolonged.


The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) has requested the Japanese government to permit the reentry of businesspeople and international students in addition to permanent residents. “Opportunities related to travel, the economy, and family must not be restricted by nationality,” insists the ACCJ.


The Japanese government explains that it restricts reentry for permanent residents and others because “it is important to prevent as much as possible the influx of COVID-19 into the country.” Entry into Japan for “special circumstances” from a humanitarian perspective, including participation in a relative’s funeral and medical surgery overseas, are exempted from the restriction.


A major factor behind Japan’s refusal to relax reentry restrictions across the board is that Japan lags behind in offering PCR tests, which check for the presence of the novel coronavirus. Those returning to Japan from a nation or region whose nationals Japan refuses entry are required to take a PCR test at the airport upon arrival.


From August, the government will increase testing capacity at domestic airports to 4,000 a day. In September, it will open “PCR centers” at Narita, Haneda, and Kansai International Airports and expand testing to about 10,000 a day.


Along with this increase in testing, there will be a rise in the number of people required to be tested, including Japanese returning to Japan as well as those newly entering the country for business reasons and others subject to the relaxation of restrictions. There is a limit to how many tests can be allocated to foreigners reentering Japan.


As of July 1, foreigners now out of the country who hold a reentry permit number 208,000. Of that number, there are 5,000 permanent residents who left Japan on or after April 3 and are in principle unable to reenter Japan. The path to reentry will not become available unless Japan accelerates its pace of increasing testing.


Former Justice Ministry immigration Bureau head and Nihon University professor Shigeru Takaya says, “It is a question of how the government overall views the balance between testing and the economy. It is inevitable that there will be a certain number of restrictions at this point because there is no [novel coronavirus] testing framework in place.”


Permission to reenter Japan depends on the date of departure


Departed Japan

on or before April 2

Departed Japan

on or after April 3

Permanent residents, foreign spouses of Japanese, etc.



103,000 people

5,000 people

International students, businesspeople, etc.

Soon to be permitted


88,000 people

12,000 people

Note: Figures of the number of people now out of country are as of July 1.


International provisions on reentry

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” (Art. 13, para. 2)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

“Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.” (Art. 12, para. 2)

“No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” (Art. 12, para. 4)


  • Ambassador
  • Ukraine
  • COVID-19
  • Trending Japan