Stop the entry ban on legal foreign residents of Japan

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Change the policy of generically denying entry to foreign residents of Japan, including permanent residents, family members of Japanese citizens, and other mid- or long-term foreign residents who have their livelihood in Japan

An open petition to Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Minister of Justice Mori Masako

Initiated by Sven Kramer, long-term foreign resident of Japan and spouse and father of Japanese citizens

As a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, many countries have implemented restrictions on international travel. This includes a generic entry denial of foreign nationals and requiring virus testing and a subsequent two weeks long quarantine from the country’s own citizens upon entering. In most counties, especially developed ones, at least permanent residents and eminent foreign relatives of citizens (spouses and children) are exempt from those entry bans, but not so in Japan.

Since April 3rd, 2020 Japan is implementing a very strict limitation on who can enter the country, after spending even a few hours in the by now more than 100 countries and areas which are designated by the Ministry of Justice of Japan. Only people with Japanese citizenship and special permanent residents (mostly ethnic Koreans and Chinese who lost Japanese citizenship in 1952 and their descendants) are admitted under the condition to test for COVID-19 and go into a two weeks long self-quarantine if tested negatively. Every other foreign national, including even permanent residents who have lived nowhere else but in Japan for decades and long-term foreign relatives holding spouse visas, is subject to the current generic entry ban. Foreign residents with their livelihood in Japan basically get the same treatment as short-term tourists and business travelers at the border now.

This unnecessarily strict policy leads to some dire dilemmas. For example, you live in Japan permanently or long-term as a foreigner while having still close relatives like parents in your home country. If one of your parents dies, you should be able to attend his or her funeral without losing your livelihood, but since Japan denies entry to all foreigners without reasonably defined exceptions, you lose your livelihood if you attend the funeral. If you want to protect your livelihood for sure, you have to make the hard choice of staying away from the funeral of some of your closest relatives. Cases in which long-term and permanent residents of Japan had been denied reentry after attending the funeral of a parent were reported recently by the “Japan Times” and “Tōyō Keizai Online” (links below)

There is one more major problem, and that is the separation of families because of applying the entry denial to foreign spouses and parents of Japanese citizens. If a foreign spouse or mother/father of Japanese citizens has to travel internationally for a very good or unavoidable reason (e.g. the above-mentioned funeral), he/she cannot return to his/her family in Japan because of the ban. If he/she was accompanied by his/her Japanese family members (because other developed countries do not only admit their own citizens, but also their foreign relatives at least when well defined exceptional cases apply), the current border policy of Japan can lead to family separation at the Japanese port of entry. This unnecessary and cold-hearted acceptance of forced family separation by the Japanese government is a major human rights violation and has to be stopped immediately. Japan is reportedly the only G7 member who does this.

To be fair, the official documents published by the Ministry of Justice state that in rare special circumstances or for humanitarian reasons foreigners might be admitted into Japan. However, those “circumstances” or “reasons” are nowhere well, reasonably, and comprehensively defined, leaving that caveat so vague that it becomes meaningless. Even attendance of one own parent’s funeral is not generally seen or being defined as a reasonable exception.

Furthermore, there are many foreign long-term residents, who have temporarily left Japan with a valid re-entry permit before April 2, 2020, who also got suddenly shut out by this policy and still cannot return. At the time of their departure most of those affected could not anticipate that Japan would treat them like random visitors as part of her anti-COVID-19 measures and shut them out. Therefore, I respectfully request that all foreign long-term residents of Japan, who have temporarily left Japan before April 2, 2020 holding any kind of re-entry permit and are unable to return because of the current entry denial policy, shall be allowed to return to Japan immediately without exceptions. Those, whose period of stay expired during their stay abroad, shall get special permission by automatically extending their period of stay by six months. This sudden shut out of legal residents who had no other choice is severely detrimental to international faith in the institutions of this country. Lifting the reentry ban on all who departed prior to the implementation of the ban could become a step in restoring that international faith.

- The number of foreign long-term residents, permanent residents and foreigners who live as relatives of Japanese citizens, is more than 2 million people.
- They are equal to Japanese citizens in regard of being part of Japanese society, and contributing daily to Japan as employees, teachers, business owners, or tax payers, to name a few of their contributions.
- Another important difference between foreign residents and visitors is, that the former are mandatorily insured persons of the Japanese health insurance, who have to pay their monthly premiums. That is why they are entitled to PCR testing at the border and - in case of a positive result - treatment at a Japanese medical facility according to the rules of Japanese health insurance.
- Because of this, if they have to travel abroad for a very good or unavoidable reason, they must not be subject to the generic entry ban like short-term visitors and should be granted reentry into Japan under the same conditions that apply to Japanese citizens and special permanent residents immediately.
- One part of Japanese society must not be treated like random visitors even under the intention to prevent the international spread of COVID-19.
- Especially the reentry ban on foreign relatives of Japanese citizens is a huge problem, which is not only a human rights violation, but probably a violation of Japan’s constitution, too.
- I order to contribute to an end of forced family separation, resumption of issuing new spouse visas should also be thoroughly considered.

For the main reasons stated above, I think that the inclusion of permanent and long-term foreign residents, including even family members of Japanese citizens, into the current entry ban at the Japanese ports of entry, is just unnecessarily cruel and cannot be reasonably justified with the intention of preventing the international spread of COVID-19. It also has the potential to seriously damage Japan’s reputation in the world as a major developed country. I and the supporters of this open petition therefore respectfully but strongly request to the government of Japan, and especially to Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Minister of Justice Mori Masako, to immediately lift the entry ban on permanent, long-term foreign residents and non-Japanese family members of Japanese families, who have their livelihood in Japan and have to travel internationally for very good or unavoidable, well-defined reasons, or temporarily departed before April 2, 2020, and applying the exact same conditions to them, that are applied to Japanese citizens and special permanent residents.

Related references:

The rules for entry denial as published by the Ministry of Justice of Japan (as of May 27, 2020): http://www.moj.go.jp/EN/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/m_nyuukokukanri01_00003.html

Article by “NHK World”: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1107/

Article by the “Japan Times”: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/05/19/national/social-issues/japan-foreign-residents-stranded-abroad-coronavirus/#.Xs8MFcAfk2w

Article by “Tōyō Keizai Online”: https://topics.smt.docomo.ne.jp/article/toyokeizai/business/toyokeizai-352557

* As of June 12th, 2020, the Ministry of Justice has published examples of cases that may allow you to re-enter Japan (http://www.moj.go.jp/content/001321982.pdf). This is a large step in eliminating and preventing the unjust separation of families, but it also just partially solves one of the numerous problems pointed out by this petition. There are still many members of Japanese society who are unnecessarily in trouble because of the current rules, so please continue to support this petition.