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Japan immigration

Japan finally lifts COVID-based reentry ban for foreign residents

International businesses call for further easing of conditions for returnees

A man walks through the nearly empty international departure terminal at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Foreign residents can now reenter the country after meeting certain conditions.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- After fierce criticism from abroad, Japan finally lifted the reentry ban for foreign residents on Tuesday, allowing those who left the country after coronavirus travel bans were imposed to return. Residents leaving Japan temporarily in the future will also be allowed reentry, subject to certain conditions.

The policy revision made Japan the last country in the Group of Seven to let foreign residents return amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan started letting some foreign residents reenter in August, but only those who left the country before their countries of origin banned reentry. The first bans were issued on April 3.

The new policy stipulates that foreigners with residence status must show reentry documents obtained from Japanese consular officials upon arrival and have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours prior to their return.

Foreign residents leaving Japan temporarily and who want to ease reentry procedures must first request approval from immigration officials prior to their departure.

The latest policy change "marks a major step forward in terms of the treatment by the Japanese government of long term foreign residents and workers in Japan," said Christopher LaFleur, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. However, he added that other issues need to be addressed.

Japan's entry policies have riled international businesses, even as the government considers new visa and tax schemes designed to lure professionals to Japan, as China's crackdown on Hong Kong intensifies.

In August, chambers of commerce from the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and some European countries issued a statement saying that preventing foreign residents from returning to the country "can only discourage foreign nationals, and the companies they work for, from investing in Japan."

An ACCJ survey found that 40% of respondents expect moderate to very significant losses due to the reentry ban.

While LaFleur said that survey results would now look different with the latest revision, he suggested further changes, including equal treatment for Japanese and foreign residents when traveling outside the country and more flexibility in bringing foreign workers to Japan.

"That will be to the economic benefit of Japan as well as to the many foreign companies that operate here," LaFleur said.

Larry Greenberg, CEO of Tokyo-based consultancy Urban Connections, said the new policy is only "a minor improvement."

Urban Connections was advising a joint venture between a Japanese entertainment company and a U.S. company that was supposed to launch in July, but Greenberg said that the project has since stalled. Even with the latest revision, "travel is not practical" due to PCR testing procedures, he said.

Foreign nationals are now required to take a PCR test within 72 hours before departing to Japan, a requirement not imposed on Japanese nationals. Greenberg suggested that this unequal treatment makes Japan less attractive to Americans as a place to work.

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