Japanese authorities are scrambling to prevent the Omicron variant from gaining a foothold in the interior of the country. They focus on border restrictions, but the rules are unclear, especially for foreign residents of Japan.
Kishida’s statements create anxiety
The day before the Omicron variant was detected in Japan, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio made an announcement that raised fears among his country’s expat community.
“I have decided to put in place entry restrictions for foreigners from all over the world from Tuesday,” he told reporters at a press conference on November 29.
The government has asked airlines to suspend new flight bookings to Japan for the remainder of the year, including for Japanese nationals.
This frustrated citizens who hoped to return home, forcing authorities to reverse their decision 3 days later.
“I have asked the Ministry of Transport to fully consider the Japanese request for a way home,” Kishida said.
But Kishida’s statements lacked any mention of Japan’s 2.9 million foreign residents. Many wondered if they were now banned from entering, and that anxiety stuck.
Foreign residents struggle to find information
Ukrainian Anna Omelchenko feels vulnerable as a resident of Japan who is currently abroad. She works in an IT company in Tokyo, but last week she took a plane to visit her parents for the first time in 3 years.
She plans to return to Japan later this month and is struggling to confirm if that will be possible.
“I wake up in the morning and check what the government has implemented and have to go and check all the sites,” Omelchenko told NHK from his parents’ house in Baryshivka, Ukraine.
“And of course there isn’t enough information in English, and I need to read it in Japanese.”
“Does the virus read your passport?” “
The Japanese government sounded the alarm when it banned the return of foreigners from 10 southern African countries, effective December 2.
It brought back difficult memories of 2020, when many foreign residents were unable to return to Japan for months, while Japanese citizens were still allowed entry.
Experts like the head of the WHO’s health emergency program, Michael Ryan, criticize border restrictions that target nationality.
“Epidemiologically, I’m having a hard time understanding the principle there,” Ryan said at a press conference Dec. 1.
“Will some passport holders get the virus and others not? Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident?” Ryan said.
Foreign residents can re-enter
Japanese immigration officials told NHK that as of December 3, foreign residents of most countries were still allowed to return to Japan.
But there are concerns that that may still change depending on what happens with the Omicron variant.
The government has said the current rules will be in place until the end of December, for now.
This does not inspire confidence in expats who are planning to travel outside of Japan soon. American Ashley McLaughlin is an English teacher in Japan. She booked a flight to visit her family on December 4, but with the uncertainty surrounding border rules, she is set to cancel.
McLaughlin fears things will change before he returns to Japan in January.
“Is seeing my family worth not being able to come back for a while?” McLaughlin said. “So that’s difficult for sure.”
NHK on Friday asked officials at the Japan Immigration Service Agency to clarify current border measures with respect to foreign residents. Here are the restrictions as of December 3:
- Foreign newcomers are prohibited (exceptions include spouses or children of citizens or permanent residents, and diplomats)
- Foreign residents of Japan can leave and re-enter 152 countries and territories
- Foreign residents cannot re-enter Japan if they have stayed in 10 Southern African countries in the last 14 days (restriction does not apply to Japanese citizens)