Tokyo: In a long-awaited move, Japan has partially reopened its borders, allowing all foreign nationals from around the world who are planning to relocate to Japan to seek entry permission starting October 1.
The government’s announcement of its relaxed border controls last Friday came as Japan prepares for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed until next summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The entry restrictions on foreign nationals, which were introduced in April with the aim of curtailing the spread of the coronavirus into Japan, have since been updated through September and now cover 159 countries and regions.
However, even though Japan is relaxing its entry restrictions on those from overseas – except for tourists – visa applicants will be required to meet strict conditions to receive permission to enter the country and new burdens will be placed on the traveler’s employers or entities accepting foreign nationals.
All foreign nationals who are set to relocate to Japan for purposes other than sightseeing, for instance to work or study, as well as people without Japanese passports who are planning to join their families here under dependent visas, can seek entry clearance from October.
In general, no preconditions such as urgent humanitarian reasons are required to seek entry permission. However, programs under which applicants can seek entry will differ depending on the nature of the pandemic in the traveler’s country of residence.
Travelers from among the 159 countries and regions covered by the entry restrictions with higher numbers of infections will be required to meet stricter conditions, and there is a lower cap on the number of new entries from these nations allowed in per day.
Such limitations will not cover new entries from some of the 159 countries and regions if the pandemic is considered to be relatively under control there and they are part of a reciprocal cross-border travel program with Japan. This applies to Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
Seiji Matano, deputy director of the Immigration Department at the Immigration Services Agency (ISA) told a news conference at the Foreign Ministry that the number of permitted entries will be determined in accordance with testing capacity at international airports, which now stands at 10,000 per day and also covers Japanese nationals returning from abroad, and such adjustments will be made during the screening process.
Currently travellers arriving for a short-term stay in Japan are not allowed to travel in principle. But short-term business travelers can seek entry under reciprocal business travel programs.
Meanwhile, foreign nationals with legal residence status in Japan can travel in and out of Japan under a separate set of rules that came into force September 1.
All new visa applicants will be required to submit an application to local immigration authorities such as their nearest Japanese Embassy or consular office under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry. But foreign nationals whose countries are covered by the travel restrictions will need to submit additional documentation.
In some cases, applicants can use a program based on the reciprocal travel program originally introduced for business travelers, or they can seek entry under stricter procedures. People from those countries covered by the business travel program who are seeking permission to relocate to Japan to work or study can apply for visas using the so-called residence track.
The business program for long-term and short-term travelers was introduced when a limited number of new entries was allowed, but from now on it will also cover all visa categories including student visas and cultural activities visas for people relocating to Japan.
The government has also been in talks with Australia, China, Hong Kong, Mongolia, New Zealand and South Korea over resuming business travel under similar conditions and plans to add these countries to the cross-border travel program.
Foreign nationals from other countries covered by the entry restrictions will need to provide written assurance from their company or sponsor that quarantine measures will be followed upon entering Japan, which will be the main requirement for the screening process. The travelers will need to submit a printed copy of the document when applying for entry permission.
“We’re aware that some applicants may struggle with acquiring the written pledge” from their sponsors, Matano told the Japan Times earlier this week.
Additional documentation may vary depending on the country of the traveler’s residence. According to the ISA, which oversees visa proceedings, foreign nationals will be required to monitor their health for 14 days prior to their departure for Japan and will need to submit proof they tested negative within 72 hours prior to their trip in accordance with government guidelines.
Documents confirming the test need to be filled out entirely in English and need to be signed by a doctor from the medical institution where the test was conducted or have the institution’s stamp. Officials suggest using the certification form for COVID-19 tests that can be found on the Justice Ministry’s website.
Only negative results for molecular diagnostic tests conducted via nasopharyngeal swab or saliva samples using the real time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction method, the so-called LAMP method or an antigen test using the CLEIA method will be recognized as valid.
Only foreign nationals coming from the around 35 countries that are not covered by the entry restrictions, such as Mali, do not need to submit pre-entry test results.
Before arrival, travelers will also be asked to fill out a detailed health questionnaire and report where they will be self-isolating after arriving in Japan.
According to the government bodies overseeing immigration proceedings, new visa applicants will need to agree to be tested upon arrival as well as observe a 14-day period of self-isolation at designated locations such as a hotel, company housing, a short-term rental apartment or private accommodation.
According to the ISA, there are no specific requirements for the type of accommodation for self-isolation but such arrangements should be made prior to traveling. Also, travelers cannot use public transportation during the 14-day period, including when leaving the airport.
Only short-term business travellers under the reciprocal agreements are given permission to commute between their workplace and their accommodation during the 14-day period.
The travellers will be required to report their health condition to the health ministry throughout the self-isolation period through their sponsor or employer, or on their own through a smartphone app. They will also be required to use the government-sponsored COVID-19 contact tracing application and save location data using a designated app throughout the 14-day period.