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Japan to allow re-entry for some resident foreigners

Permission may be granted on humanitarian grounds; travel restrictions may be loosened for some nations

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has said loosening of Japan's borders is likely to start with business travel and visits by experts.

Tokyo

JAPAN will allow some resident foreigners to re-enter the country on humanitarian grounds after facing criticism its policies made their return uncertain and left the group in a Covid-19 travel limbo.

A notice on the foreign ministry website says permission to land may be granted "depending on the individual situation if there are special exceptional circumstances, particularly such as when there are circumstances that require humanitarian consideration."

In a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Japan had banned entry from 111 countries and regions, including the United States, Europe, India and Singapore.

Unlike many other advanced economies, it included permanent residents who call Japan home and spouses of Japanese nationals among those forbidden to enter.

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Japan had encouraged foreign workers to come to the country to ease a labour shortage resulting from its ageing and shrinking population. The number of foreign workers almost doubled to 1.5 million in 2019.

Some resident foreigners are currently stuck outside the country, while others have missed family funerals overseas due to the travel ban. Japanese nationals, while discouraged from travelling, are permitted to return.

Public broadcaster NHK, which first reported the news, said immigration authorities had given examples such as visiting a dying relative, attending a family funeral, or the need to attend follow-up exams after undergoing surgery overseas.

Japan, whose strict border measures are set to stay in place at least until the end of June, has said it's in discussions with Vietnam about the resumption of business travel between the two countries.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper and others have said the country is also considering loosening restrictions on travel with Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, all of which have relatively few cases of the disease.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has said loosening of Japan's borders in general is likely to start with business travel and visits by experts, followed by foreign students, with tourism likely to come later.

The country's travel policies are set to face a big test next year when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics, which were pushed back by 12 months to July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. BLOOMBERG

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