I will wait three more weeks before complaining about Japan’s entry restrictions on students

From November 30 to December 31, 2021, as emergency precautionary measure from a preventive perspective, new entry of foreign nationals is suspended.

As tersely stated above, the Kishida government has reimposed entry restrictions out of fear of the spreading Omicron variant of covid. The strong response has led to an uptick in his public approval, and in a Diet speech last week the prime minister doubled down on his cautious approach: “[W]e have taken the decision to suspend the entry of foreign nationals, applicable to the entire world. I am prepared to bear all the criticism that, although the situation is still not well understood, this is excessively cautious.”

The news has been cause of concern for many, but my Twitter feed has directed my attention to students and their advocates complaining that they’ve been made to wait too long already to begin degree programs or field work in Japan. At least one has said she is withdrawing from the prestigious Japan Foundation fellowship because of the new restrictions.

As an observer, I have to point out that Japan is taking actions not all that different from other major countries, and is right to be cautious about a potentially deadly variant. In that context, letting in foreign students is simply not the top priority now – limiting the spread of COVID is, to first save lives and secondly work to getting society and economic activity back on track for the general public.

At the same time, as the evidence starts to mount that Omicron is NOT a super-variant Captain Trips virus that requires a radical change in approach, once this period is over officials should work as quickly as practical to start reopening again.

I can’t agree with the sentiment voiced by some that Japan’s delays in letting in workers and students are hurting Japan’s national interest. If some students decide to go elsewhere I think it’s a price the country’s policymakers are willing to pay. I’m confident that there will be more applicants to Japan Foundation and other programs.

Is this #crueljapan? I don’t think so, it’s more like indifference in the face of a potentially disastrous result. People stuck with less-than-flexible bureaucracies and other problems have to make the decision that’s right for them, but I can’t help but think it’s a bad idea to call out your former benefactors publicly without a good reason.

Like the students and other would-be entrants to Japan, I too want to visit the country again soon, so I feel like I understand the challenges. When arguing Japan should work to start letting students in, former foreign minister (and as current LDP PR officer holds no real political power at this moment) Kono Taro said recently that the country was not even close to filling its 3,500 people a day quota before 11/30, so as long as it’s safe the government should be able to safely process students.

So I am willing to give the policymakers three more weeks, and encourage everyone else to do the same. If there’s no action after that, I’ll use a slightly less inflammatory hashtag but I’ll also complain that the restrictions are too much.

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