HomeWorld NewsJapan border policy keeps thousands of foreigners in limbo

Japan border policy keeps thousands of foreigners in limbo

TOKYO (AP) — More than a yr in the past Sebastian Bressa completed his paperwork to change into a language instructor in Tokyo and made plans to stop his job in Sydney. His life has been in limbo ever since.

Japan has saved its door closed to most foreigners in the course of the pandemic, and the 26-year-old Australian is one of lots of of thousands denied entry to review, work or see their households.

Japan has change into one of the world’s most tough international locations to enter and a few are evaluating it to the locked nation, or “sakoku,” policy of xenophobic warlords who ruled Japan in the 17th to 19th centuries. The current border rules allow in only Japanese nationals and permanent foreign residents, and have raised the ire of foreign students and scholars who say the measures are unfair, unscientific and force talented visitors to go to other countries. Critics say the rules are also hurting Japan’s international profile and national interest.

About half a million foreigners — including academics, researchers and others with highly skilled jobs and 150,000 foreign students — have been affected, various statistics show.

“I think the most difficult thing for me has been this state of living in standby,” Bressa said. He has been unable to commit himself to any long-term plans with his family, friends or even at work. “I can’t plan that far ahead in the future, just not knowing where I end up the next month or two.”

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

In Spain’s second-largest city of Barcelona, Laura Vieta stood outside of the Japanese Consulate last week, holding up a sign saying “Stop Japan’s Travel Ban.”

“I gave up my job because I thought I was going to Japan in September,” said Vieta, 25, who wants to study Japanese at a private school for six months or longer. “As you can see, I’m still here.”

Japan plans to keep the border measures in place through the end of February as it copes with a record surge of cases in Tokyo and other major cities. Makoto Shimoaraiso, a Cabinet official working on Japan’s COVID-19 response, said the situation is painful but he asked for patience, noting much higher infection levels overseas.

Japan recently decided to let nearly 400 students enter, but many others including those on foreign government-sponsored scholarships still cannot get in.

A letter to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, signed by hundreds of academics and Japan experts and submitted last month in a petition drive, called for a relaxation of the border controls to enable educators, students and scholars to pursue their studies and work in Japan. It said many already have given up Japan studies, opting to focus elsewhere, such as South Korea.

“They become the bridges between Japan and other societies. They are future policymakers, business leaders, and teachers. They are the foundation of the U.S.-Japan alliance and other international relationships that support Japan’s core national interests,” the letter said. “The closure is harming Japan’s national interests and international relationships.”

Japan is not the only country imposing strict border controls, but the policy is drawing criticism from within Kishida’s governing party and from the business community.

Taro Kono, an outspoken lawmaker who has studied at Georgetown University and served as foreign and defense minister, urged that the government “reopen the country so that students and others waiting for an entry can have a future outlook and make plans.”

Masakazu Tokura, head of Japan’s powerful business organization Keidanren, recently said the border measures were “unrealistic” and are disrupting business. He called for a quick end to “the locked country situation.”

However, the border controls have extensive public assist. Many Japanese are inclined to suppose troubles such because the pandemic come from exterior their island nation.

Tightening border controls rapidly after omicron outbreaks started abroad might have been unavoidable, Nippon University disaster administration professor Mitsuru Fukuda mentioned, however the choice to exclude solely foreigners seems geared toward rallying public assist. With cautious preventive measures, Japan may permit overseas guests simply as many different international locations are doing, he mentioned.

“Crisis administration is for the safety of individuals’s every day lives and happiness, and other people shouldn’t need to compromise their freedom and human rights in trade for his or her lives,” Fukuda mentioned.

Japan’s coronavirus instances plunged as delta variant infections subsided in the autumn, and Kishida has mentioned closing the border to most overseas vacationers in late November helped delay the most recent surge in infections. He contends that overreacting is healthier than doing too little, too late.

He was possible taking a lesson from his predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who stepped apart after solely a yr in workplace partly as a consequence of his administration’s perceived weak dealing with of the pandemic.

Japan has simply begun giving booster photographs, however solely 3.5% of the inhabitants have obtained them, and the medical system has been inadequately ready for the most recent big wave of instances, leaving many sick with COVID-19 to isolate at home.

The border closures didn’t preserve omicron out of U.S. navy bases, the place Japan has no jurisdiction, together with troops that fly instantly into the nation with out observing Japanese quarantine necessities. They weren’t examined for weeks, until Tokyo asked them to.

Clusters of instances amongst U.S. troops quickly unfold into neighboring communities together with these in Okinawa, residence to the bulk of the 50,000 American troops in Japan, starting in late December. Infections at U.S. bases exceeded 6,000 final month.

On Wednesday, Japan reported practically 95,000 new confirmed instances, close to a document, and Tokyo’s instances exceeded 20,000 for the primary time. Some pandemic restrictions at the moment are in impact in a lot of Japan, together with Tokyo and different massive cities like Osaka and Kyoto, for the primary time since September.

Phillip Lipscy, a political science professor at Toronto University in Canada who is an element of the petition drive, mentioned he was denied entry regardless of his Japanese roots and his dedication to the examine of Japan.

“I grew up in Japan. I am a native speaker of the language, my mother is Japanese and she lives in Tokyo. But under the current policy I cannot enter Japan because of the color of my passport,” Lipscy informed an internet assembly.

With the outlook unsure, many individuals are altering their research or careers, he mentioned.

“These are fateful decisions with long term consequences,” he mentioned. “The border closure is depriving Japan of a generation of admirer, friends and allies.”

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Associated Press journalist Chisato Tanaka contributed to this report.

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