TOKYO — There are more than 370,000 foreign nationals who cannot enter Japan despite having precertification for residence status as of Oct. 1 due to border controls aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, Nikkei has learned.
About 70% of those who cannot come to Japan are technical intern trainees and international students. While many countries are taking steps to ease immigration restrictions and reopen their economies, Japan, in principle, remains shut to foreign entrants from all countries.
Foreign nationals must apply for a certificate of eligibility before traveling to Japan to stay in the country for more than three months. According to a government source, Immigration Service Agency has issued eligibility certificates to 578,000 people since January 2020, of which 371,000 have not yet entered Japan.
The government imposed tighter border controls in January. Entry is only allowed for returning foreign residents and others with special status, such as spouses of Japanese nationals. Returning foreign nationals are required to take PCR tests and undergo quarantine.
The health ministry is considering easing the restrictions but remains concerned that allowing more foreign nationals into Japan will lead to an increase in COVID-19 cases and new variants of the virus. Some politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party believe previous surges in infections were due to insufficient border controls and are against relaxing the rules. There also seems to be no coordination between the ministry and the LDP.
The government is planning to gradually relax border controls after the parliamentary election on Oct. 31, giving priority to short-term business travelers.
The restrictions are adding pressures to a chronic labor shortage in Japan. There were 194,000 technical trainees slated to come to Japan after 2020, of whom 111,000 have not entered the country. Representatives of a labor union for the construction industry told Nikkei that “there are several cases [of companies that] gave up receiving [trainees].” An executive with a pub chain said: “There could be competition to secure foreign workers when the economy recovers.”
Around 120,000 international students came to Japan annually before the pandemic. But out of the 199,000 who were approved since 2020, 147,000 have not entered the country. “If the entry restrictions continue, it will be impossible to continue our business within a year,” a representative of a Japanese language school said.
The U.S. has relaxed entry restrictions for travelers from 33 countries, starting Nov. 8, on condition that they have proof of vaccination. There is also no need for quarantines. Singapore waived quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers from eight countries including the U.S. and Europe from Oct. 19. Thailand will allow entry of travelers from at least 10 countries, including the U.S. and China, without quarantine, starting Nov. 1.
“Prolonged entry bans would lead to a large impact on the domestic economy,” said Atsuo Hamada, a professor at Tokyo Medical University. “It is time to think about reopening using proof of vaccination and other measures,” he said.