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Business trends

Stay or go? Window closes for Japan Inc. to bring back expats

Coronavirus travel bans force companies to decide and calculate costs

A passenger at Kansai International Airport in Osaka.   © Reuters

TOKYO --  As Tokyo prepares to expand the number of countries under stricter travel rules due the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese companies are deciding what to do with the employees that they have dispatched abroad.

The Japanese government is expected to soon expand a ban on entry by foreign nationals arriving from such countries as the U.S. as well as for all of China and South Korea. Most of Europe is already under the ban, but the U.K. is expected to be newly included. The number of countries under the harsher rules will be around 40.

Japanese citizens arriving from those places under the tougher restrictions will be requested to be tested for infection by the virus. If the results are negative, they will be asked to self-quarantine for two weeks. If they test positive, they will be admitted to a hospital.

Despite the sterner travel rules, Toyota Motor will not change its policy of keeping its employees in place in China, the U.S. and South Korea, although it will allow temporary returns depending on local conditions and restrictions on going out in public.

Families of Japanese Toyota employees in Thailand, on the other hand, started temporarily repatriating on a voluntary basis on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the automaker is recommending that staff in India, South Africa and Egypt come back with their families. This is similar to an approach rolled out in the Philippines, where a Toyota Innova minivan plant is shut down until mid-April. Workers there began returning to Japan with their families on March 17.

Bridgestone has assisted employees who wish to get back from their posts in China, Italy and elsewhere, as long their absences do not impair operations. The tire maker has provided information on securing air travel, as well as support on expenses.

Trading house Mitsubishi Corp. has authorized employees to repatriate temporarily if needed from Europe, Africa and other places. Approvals depend on border rules surrounding the specific country, as well as the medical situation. The group is adjusting the timing of appointments of staff overseas as well.

Company support for returning workers will continue after they arrive in Japan. Subaru has leased condominium units to house expats short-term from Europe. G-Tekt, an auto-parts supplier affiliated with Honda Motor, ordered Japanese staff to come home from India. Five are due to arrive on Tuesday and will stay for about two weeks at a Tokyo hotel.

One trading house will generally pick up the entire bill for the two-week hotel stay for employees coming back from high-risk nations and also cover the costs of rental cars hired by quarantined employees, since they are discouraged from using public transport.

Apart from government-chartered flights from China's Hubei Province, Japanese nationals are largely on their own if they want to repatriate. In Peru, which has completely sealed its borders, the Japanese embassy has chartered a flight for stranded citizens.

But testing and quarantines are not enforced, and individuals can refuse to submit to those measures. An estimated 876,000 Japanese nationals resided overseas for long-term stays at the end of October 2018, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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