Decidedly, despite its desire to attract foreign labor, Japan has still failed. Already unwelcoming to foreigners in certain respects, its choice to prohibit access to its territory to any foreign national from 129 countries, long-term residents included, drives the point a little deeper. If in principle, the control of travelers is justified by health circumstances and applied by other countries, Japan is the only one among the G7 countries not to have established a distinction between tourists and holders of return authorization. . A measure that plunges us, foreign residents, in a distressing situation. Strongly criticized, the Japanese government has finally announced to look into the issue, without however offering details or date …

The coronavirus pandemic has forced countries around the world to rethink their borders and control travelers. But while many foreign powers allow their nationals as well as their foreign residents to circulate, Japan has barred entry to any non-Japanese.

Thus, Japanese citizens can return to Japan with a PCR test and 14 days of quarantine. However, foreign residents are still not allowed to cross the border to return. at their home.

Foreign residents

This double standard has had, and continues to have, serious consequences for the people concerned. The many criticisms of this unequal treatment have forced the Japanese government to look into the matter. This week, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo declared a future easing towards foreign residents. But no date or precise details have been communicated.

Japan closed its borders to more and more countries as of mid-March

With the spread of the covid-19 epidemic in Europe and North America, the Japanese foreign ministry has started to ban the entry of travelers from more and more countries. Immigration has invalidated visas already obtained. The embassies have suspended all pending files. A real nightmare for many students and workers preparing their arrival in Japan for the start of the month of April.

And it was on April 3 that the ax fell in a shattering manner. Foreign travelers who have stayed in or transited through countries affected by the pandemic, which is now a list of 129 countries, are prohibited from entering Japanese territory.

The transition was made in a very chaotic way with travelers, who left the day before the decision, turned away on their arrival. This was the case with one of my students, even though we had had his trip confirmed with the Japanese Embassy and checked one last time with the airline when he left. Twenty hours of journey with stopover to be manu militari placed on a return flight a few hours later.

The ban on the return of foreign residents without distinction

The problem is, this drastic restriction does not distinguish tourists from residents. In practice, it would be about 88,000 foreigners who left before April 3 and 12,000 left after this date, stranded abroad since the spring. The Japanese press has documented at least 480 cases of residents turned back at the border, like my student.

These residents are workers on the move, students who have been ordered to return to their countries while the crisis passes. But also people called urgently by their relatives at the very beginning of the pandemic. Only the latter can on file for “humanitarian reason”, return to the dropper.

Currently, the few foreigners authorized to enter the territory are diplomats, airline employees and those whose country of origin is not on the list (it is still necessary to succeed in nabbing a flight that does not pass through any country). entry prohibited).

As for “us”, foreign residents on Japanese territory, we cannot leave the territory under penalty of not being able to return until we know when.

This distressing situation forces us to give up on seeing our loved ones again, making business trips or attending seminars. I’m talking about travel here essential.

Only cases for humanitarian reasons are currently considered by immigration. But these files, as Laurent Pic, Ambassador of France in Japan, explained in an email sent to French people living in the archipelago, are complex:

“(…) the Japanese authorities agree to grant exemptions, on a case-by-case basis and justified on humanitarian grounds, of which they have an extremely restrictive understanding. They mention in particular, among the possible exceptional circumstances, a return to attend a funeral following the death of a close member of the family, for medical reasons (…) or for a summons by justice. A cumbersome procedure requiring many very detailed supporting documents allows the embassy to submit requests and obtain travel authorizations, which are however never the subject of a written confirmation by the Japanese authorities, the decisions of admission to the territory ultimately belonging to immigration officers on arrival.

The Japanese can travel as long as the borders are open to them, for professional or personal reasons, if they feel like going elsewhere. The absurdity goes so far as to allow Japanese born abroad and living abroad to enter the territory, but to refuse the entry of foreigners born and having lived their whole life in Japan.

Still, the virus doesn’t discriminate against nationalities, does it?

I am not an expert, so I could be wrong, but it would seem that Japan cannot, in principle, hinder the movements of its citizens. Also immigration would not have the practical means to limit the movement of Japanese as long as the borders of other countries are open to them.

The interpretation of the word citizen as mentioned in the Japanese Constitution can be exclusive to citizens of Japanese nationality or on the contrary inclusive of foreign residents. Unfortunately, this is the first interpretation that was chosen here.

However, if controlling international travel as much as possible is not foolish, based on the sole criterion of nationality, the Japanese administration has completely ignored the dreadful consequences for foreign residents.

I was shocked to see some defend an administrative choice made, no doubt more for lack of reflection than for a conscious desire to exclude residents.

It is absolutely essential to realize that foreign residents have their life in Japan: their family, their work, their home… Some, without being born there, grew up there. Not having Japanese nationality does not prevent them from having their home, their home, in Japan.

Even though these forgotten immigrants are currently in their country of origin, they are not necessarily attached to it. Sometimes homeless and without financial means, these residents continue to pay their subscriptions, to repay a mortgage. Likewise, they still have obligations to Japanese society: taxes, pensions, health insurance continue to be due and collected. And what about their work or their studies !? Finally, some find themselves separated from their partners and their children.

A double standard which makes foreigners “second class” residents

A permanent resident, I have lived in Japan since 2013. I pay taxes, my social security and my retirement like the Japanese. But today, if I get out of Japan, I don’t know if I could go home. My husband can come and go with the only restriction of being tested and quarantined (which he might not actually respect).

This unequal treatment is absolutely unacceptable. Fortunately the foreign community, consular authorities and business lobbies have continued to denounce this situation to members of the Japanese government.

Germany has officially decided to deny the entry of Japanese citizens into its territory as long as German nationals resident in Japan cannot return. A measure that could well inspire other European countries.

As for the European Business Council in Japan, it issued a statement putting forward that prohibiting the entry of foreign residents goes against article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 which declares ” [nul] will not be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country. “

A relaxation of this ban in sight

Months after the entry ban measures were put in place, the Japanese government recognized the problem and began to look into starting a solution.

However, the easing mentioned this week is still very vague. For the time being, it only targets foreigners who left before April 3, 2020. Priority would be given to students and workers of… foreign companies. The employees of Japanese companies can therefore go to brush. Finally, let’s not forget the businessmen, who would be allowed to enter Japan on condition that they go there … with their own jet.

This correction of the restrictions would be implemented gradually from August.

Foreign residents - flexibility

First line, permanent residents and spouses of Japanese citizens, second line, students and workers. The first column indicates departures until April 2 and the second column indicates departures after April 3. Source: Nikkei

As for the 12,000 foreigners who left after the implementation of stay restrictions, they would not be concerned. Just like foreigners who have a visa but have not yet activated their residence in the country.

We are still far from what the foreign community wants, which is, without being too mistaken, a coherent and fair basis for establishing the rules concerning travel outside Japan. Like Japanese citizens, foreign residents can fully comply with quarantine rules and take PCR tests before they arrive.

An F- for Japan

From discussions with members of the Japanese government, it emerged that Japanese politicians were totally ignorant of the consequences of the migration measures they took.

This once again reveals the lack of interest of the Japanese political class in the situation of foreigners, even as the government has tried for several years to make Japan attractive. In my eyes, it is a serious warning for newcomers and those who dream of coming to settle in Japan.

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