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EDUCATION > Study Abroad

Visa ban risks weakening of Japanese Studies, exchange programs

  • October 25, 2021
  • , Asahi , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

By Nakai Daisuke in New York, Kawasaki Yuko, and Sato Tatsuya


Japan’s prolonged ban on most student visas on the grounds of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused concern both at home and abroad. In addition to depriving foreign students of opportunities to study in Japan, the ban is feared to have negative impacts on Japanese Studies programs and on foreign universities’ acceptance of Japanese students.


On Oct. 21, a total of 656 scholars and administrators of Japanese and U.S. universities and research institutions presented a written request to the Consulate General of Japan in New York, calling for the resumption of visa issuance. “[The ban on visas is] undermining Japanese academic institutions’ interactions with the global community and damaging their reputations,” the document stated.


“Tokyo hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games; it should be able to host international students who live in Japan long term,” says Paul Hastings, executive director of the Japan International Christian University Foundation.


As the level of COVID inoculation rises, major study-abroad destinations, such as the United States, France, and Germany, are gradually increasing student visa numbers to their pre-pandemic levels. In this environment, Japan’s position stands out. According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, 7,078 international students arrived in the country in the first half of 2021, a 90% drop from the same period in 2019.


In September, the Japan Association of Private Colleges and Universities urged the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) to ease visa restrictions, citing a concern that the delay in lifting the ban has driven prospective students elsewhere.


Mark Williams, vice president of International Christian University, gave the example of a University of California student who gave up studying in Japan and went to South Korea instead.


“At the time when Japanese Studies in the United States is losing momentum, the impact of losing the flow of interpersonal exchange is great,” says Habu Junko, chair of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.


There is also a possibility that it may become difficult for Japanese students who wish to study abroad to find institutions that will accept them. A survey conducted by the Japan Student Services Organization revealed that 70,000 out of 115,000 Japanese students who went overseas in FY2018 were sent as part of agreements with foreign universities. These agreements usually require that Japanese universities accept foreign students as well. “We are afraid that if American students aren’t accepted in Japan, Japanese students may not be accepted in the U.S.” Williams said.


The Japanese government is currently limiting issuance of student visas to government-sponsored students only. “The government-sponsored programs are deemed to better serve the public interest,” explains a MEXT official. While expressing hope that the issuance of visas to privately funded students will be resumed, the official nevertheless added: “Since issuance of non-student visas is also restricted, the decision on visa issuance cannot be made by MEXT alone. The ministry intends to coordinate with other agencies to ease the restrictions.”


“The Japanese people are wary of easing the visa restrictions,” said an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He expects the discussion on lifting the ban will have to wait until after the Oct. 31 Lower House election. “[The removal of the ban will be] affected by whether Japan has a sixth wave of COVID-19,” he said, adding, “If foreign students cannot come to Japan, they wouldn’t be able to have positive experiences here, and we will lose a chance to create pro-Japan leaders for the future. We in the government share the same sense of urgency.” (Abridged)

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