Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that the government is considering easing Japan’s tight entry restrictions for nonresident foreign nationals, with local media reporting that an announcement could be made as early as next week.
“We will take into account the scientific knowledge we’ve gained about the omicron variant and changes in the infection situation both at home and abroad, as well as immigration measures in place by other countries,” Kishida told reporters during a visit to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
Kishida’s remarks came after the Nikkei business daily reported hours earlier that Japan was set to ease the restrictions, gradually allowing in more business travelers and students, after mounting frustration over the stringent curbs.
The border controls were implemented in late November as the first case of the coronavirus’s omicron variant was reported and are currently set to expire at the end of February after multiple extensions.
Ahead of their expiration, the government plans to begin accepting more than 1,000 people per day, gradually raising the cap to several thousand, the Nikkei reported.
Schools and companies will be expected to supervise travelers coming in under their sponsorship, and visitors will be asked to self-isolate upon entering the country, it said.
The looser restrictions on business travelers will apply to both short-term trips and long-term relocations. The government will prioritize researchers and engineers, as well as workers who provide a “public benefit,” the report added.
The government is also considering slashing quarantine periods upon arrival to three days or less from seven days, the Nikkei said. To qualify, travelers — both Japanese and foreign nationals — will need to have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster and have been tested for the virus. The government also plans to simplify the required paperwork and the screening process.
Any easing of Japan’s border restrictions — the strictest among the Group of Seven developed nations — will come as more countries begin opening their borders to travelers.
Australia will open its borders from Feb. 21 to foreign travelers, including tourists, provided that they have been vaccinated with two shots. Thailand started accepting travelers this month and other Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore are gradually opening up.
Calls by domestic and foreign business leaders to ease the onerous restrictions in Japan have been rising.
Masakazu Tokura, chairman of Japan Business Federation, also known as Keidanren, has likened the entry restrictions to the country’s 200-year isolation policy during the Edo Period (1603-1868), urging the government to lift the ban.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and other foreign business organizations have jointly criticized the restrictions, saying it goes “considerably beyond the steps its major partners have taken and resulted in an increase in economic and human costs.”
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