Japan’s border policy is confusing thousands of foreigners

Tokyo (AP) — More than a year ago, Sebastian Bressa planned to quit his job in Sydney after completing the paperwork to become a language teacher in Tokyo. Since then, his life has been at a loss.

During the pandemic, Japan has closed its doors to most foreigners. The 26-year-old Australian is one of hundreds of thousands of people who have been denied study, work, or family visits.

Japan has become one of the most difficult countries to enter in the world, and some have compared it to the “isolated” policy of the foreign-exclusion warlords who ruled Japan in the 17th and 19th centuries. Border rules Accepting only Japanese and permanent residents, the measures were unfair and unscientific, causing the anger of foreign students and scholars to send talented visitors to other countries. Critics say the rules also undermine Japan’s international profile and national interests.

According to various statistics, about 500,000 foreigners (including scholars, researchers, highly skilled workers and 150,000 international students) are affected.

“I think the most difficult thing for me was living in this standby state,” Bressa said. He couldn’t commit to a long-term plan with his family, friends, or even the workplace. “I can’t plan this far, just because I don’t know where to go in the next month or two.”

Frustrated students gathered near Japanese diplomatic corps around the world to protest.

In Spain’s second-largest city of Barcelona, ​​Laura Vieta stood outside the Japanese Consulate last week and put up a sign saying, “Stop Japan’s travel ban.”

“I thought I’d go to Japan in September, so I quit my job,” said Vieta, a 25-year-old who wants to study Japanese for more than 6 months at a private school. “As you can see, I’m still here.”

Japan plans to implement border measures until the end of February to address the record surge in incidents in Tokyo and other major cities. Mr. Isosei Shimohara, a cabinet bureaucrat working on COVID-19 response in Japan, said the situation was severe, but pointed out that the level of infection overseas was much higher and asked for patience.

Japan has recently decided to enroll nearly 400 students, but many other students, including foreign government-sponsored scholarship students, are not yet enrolled.

The letter to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was signed by hundreds of scholars and Japanese experts and submitted in a petition movement last month to ease border control so that educators, students and scholars can study and work in Japan. Asked. Many have already given up on Japanese studies and said they chose to focus on other places such as South Korea.

“They will be a bridge between Japan and other societies. They are future policy makers, business leaders, and teachers. These are the Japan-US alliance and others that support Japan’s core national interests. It is the foundation of international relations. ” “The closure is damaging Japan’s national interests and international affairs.”

Japan is not the only country that imposes strict border control, but its policy has been criticized by Fumio Kishida’s political parties and the business community.

Taro Kono, who studied abroad at Georgetown University and served as Foreign Minister and Defense Minister, insisted on the government that “the country will be reopened so that students waiting to enter the country can make future prospects and plans.” ..

Masakazu Tokura, Secretary of Keidanren, a powerful business organization in Japan, recently said that border measures are “unrealistic” and disrupt the business. He called for a quick end to the “locked country situation.”

However, border control is widely and generally supported. Many Japanese tend to think that problems such as pandemics come from outside the island nation.

Mitsuru Fukuda, a professor of crisis management at Nihon University, said that it might have been unavoidable to strengthen border control soon after the outbreak of Omicron began overseas, but the decision to exclude only foreigners was decided. It seems that the aim is to gain the support of the people. With careful precautions, he said Japan could accept foreign tourists like many other countries.

“Crisis management is about protecting people’s daily lives and well-being, and people don’t have to compromise on freedom and human rights in exchange for their lives,” Fukuda said.

Cases of coronavirus in Japan plummeted in the fall as delta mutant infections subsided, and Fumio Kishida recently surged in infections by closing borders with most foreign tourists in late November. Said that he was able to delay. He argues that overreaction is better than being too little or too slow.

He may have learned lessons from his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga. Yoshihide Suga resigned just one year after he took office, partly because the administration recognized that it was weak in responding to pandemics.

Japan has just begun to issue booster shots, but only 3.5% of the population receives booster shots, the medical system is not well prepared for the recent wave of huge cases, and many are COVID-19. I am infected with. Quarantine at home..

The closure of the border did not keep Omicron away from US military bases that Japan does not have jurisdiction over, including troops that fly directly to the country without complying with Japan’s quarantine requirements. They haven’t been tested for weeks, Until Tokyo asks them.

From late December, the U.S. military incident group spread rapidly to neighboring communities, including Okinawa, which has a majority of 50,000 U.S. forces in Japan. Infections at US bases exceeded 6,000 last month.

On Wednesday, Japan reported about 95,000 new confirmed cases, close to the record, and the number of cases in Tokyo exceeded 20,000 for the first time. Some pandemic regulations have been in force for the first time since September in many of Japan, including other big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

Philip Lipsey, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto in Canada and part of the petition movement, said he was denied entry despite Japan’s roots and dedication to Japanese studies.

“I grew up in Japan. I speak my native language. My mother is Japanese and lives in Tokyo. However, the current policy is that you cannot enter Japan due to the color of your passport. “Lipsey said at an online conference.

He said many are changing their studies and careers because of the uncertain outlook.

“These are fateful decisions with long-term consequences,” he said. “Border closure has robbed Japan of generations of worshipers, friends and allies.”


Associated Press journalist Tanaka Chisato contributed to this report.