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Japan weighs slightly easing omicron entry ban for foreign students

  • January 14, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 1:31 a.m.
  • English Press

YUKI NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writer


TOKYO — Japan is considering allowing in international students on a limited basis, Nikkei has learned, as the country continues its entry ban on foreigners amid a surge of omicron infections.


The main proposal relaxes the near-total ban on foreign arrivals, but only for government-sponsored students who cannot graduate or progress in their education without earning credits in Japan. This likely would apply to just a few hundred people.


“We are considering a response” to foreign students awaiting entry into the country, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters on Tuesday.


But the step would be far from the full reopening that many have been waiting for. Japan has maintained border controls that are unusually strict among major economies despite mounting concerns that turning away students for too long could lead to Japan losing out on future talent.


Only 8,761 of Japan’s roughly 280,000 foreign students as of May 2020 had received government scholarships, according to the education ministry. Tokyo will continue discussing whether to extend the exemption to privately funded students.


Students allowed into Japan would remain subject to other restrictions aimed at curbing the highly contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus, including entry caps and self-isolation periods. Incoming students would need to quarantine at airport-area facilities to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.


Japan has banned nearly all new foreign arrivals since late November including government-sponsored international students, who were exempted from earlier restrictions due to their “public benefit.” Privately funded students have been left out entirely for some time.


Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday announced that the entry ban would be extended to the end of February, while saying that Tokyo “will take necessary responses in line with humanitarian and national interests.”


Students unable to enter Japan have sought out alternatives such as taking courses online. Some responded to the prolonged ban by choosing other destinations instead, such as South Korea. Members of Japan’s ruling coalition worry that this trend could harm the country’s interests.


Data from the Immigration Services Agency shows that about 120,000 people entered Japan on student visas in 2019. Only 9,930 did so in the first 10 months of 2021.


The government all but banned foreign arrivals in January 2021 after the emergence of new coronavirus variants. These controls were eased in early November to allow in businesspeople and students, but tightened again weeks later after the omicron variant was confirmed in Japan.

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