TOKYO — With Japan facing a long list of foreign students eager to start studying in the country, the government has agreed to simplify entry screenings after the easing of COVID-19 travel restrictions in March.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Thursday that Japan would ease the de facto entry ban that has kept foreign students and workers out for nearly two years. But students and host universities worry that the country’s complex entry screening could further delay their arrival.
Education Minister Shinsuke Suematsu touched on the large number of international students waiting to enter Japan in speaking to rerporters on Friday.
“I’ll work closely with relevant agencies to resolve the situation and make sure every student will be able to enter the country,” said Suematsu.
Under current rules, universities accepting an international student need to submit six physical documents, including a written pledge, activity schedule and a passport copy. Multiple government agencies are involved in the approval process, such as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
In response to calls for simplification, the government has decided to consolidate the screening process to one government office and will allow all documents to be submitted online.
Previously, the screenings were performed in the order that the residency permit was issued. But going forward, the timing will be determined based on students’ plans.
Very few students were able to enter during that brief window due to the complicated paperwork for entry.
Tokyo University of Foreign Studies said it has been peppered with questions from international students since the prime minister’s announcement Thursday. “When will I be able to come?” and “Is it OK to purchase an air ticket?” were just some of the questions raised, according to the school.
“We don’t have any concrete information at this point, so we’re essentially unable to provide guidance,” said a member of the university’s support staff for international students. “I hope [the government] quickly elaborates on the procedures.”
New arrivals by people with student visas numbered more than 120,000 a year between 2017 and 2019, according to the Immigration Services Agency. The number plummeted to 49,748 in 2020, and again to 11,639 people last year through November.
Meanwhile as of Jan. 4, there were 152,000 international students who have been granted residency but were still waiting to enter Japan, according to the Immigration Services Agency.
Akita International University in northern Japan had 90 international students waiting in their home countries in November. After the government closed the borders again, about 50 students decided to cancel plans to study in Japan.
“I’m glad restrictions are easing, but the gate is still narrow,” said Hiroyuki Yoneta, deputy director at Akita International University.
The university plans to start accepting the international students in May, following Golden Week, at the soonest.
“Given the limited number of entries allowed, students will continue to wonder when they can come to Japan,” said Yoneta. “Relations with countries with which we have student exchange agreements may suffer.”