With Omicron Looming, Japan Again Institutes More Travel Bans


Ground staff stands in Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

Japanese airports seem so empty right now.
Photo: PHILIP FONG/AFP (Getty Images)

Since spring 2020, Japan has banned foreign visitors from entering the country. There have been exceptions—some fair, some not. Last month, Japan began opening the border to business travelers and students. And then, Omicron hit.

Mainichi News reports that as of today, there are currently two cases of the variant in Japan. And this means the bans are back in place.

With this latest travel ban going into effect, all foreign visitors are once again banned from entering the country for at least one month. This includes business travelers as well as students.

When this latest ban was first announced, foreigners with resident visas were exempt. As of writing, Jiji Press reports that the ban now extents to foreigners with resident visas traveling from South Africa, Angola, Eswatini, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique and Lesotho. Japanese citizens are still able to re-enter from these countries. Foreign residents are not. Note that there are exemptions for instances including those with Japanese spouses or children, as well as for other humanitarian and diplomatic cases. The ban will be in place for the next month.

This evokes memories of early in the pandemic, when foreigners with resident visas were not able to leave and to re-enter Japan. Since late spring 2020, once foreigners with resident visas were allowed to re-enter the country, they have been required to have PCR tests before boarding a plane. During this entire time, Japanese citizens could travel freely and did not need PCR tests to board planes until early 2021. Now, everyone entering Japan, both foreigners and Japanese citizens, are required to take PCR tests and undergo lengthy quarantines, regardless if they were vaccinated or not.

While Japan can block foreigners—tourists and residents—from entering the country, it doesn’t have that power for its own citizens. That is, at least theoretically. Under Japanese law, Japanese citizens have the right to enter Japan. Foreign residents do not, even if they have a permanent resident visa. This summer, however, my wife and children, who are Japanese, had a stressful experience trying to enter Japan. Due to a typo on their paperwork, they were told they could not enter the country and to get on a plane back to the United States, a country of which my wife is not a citizen. The following day, once they got a correct copy of said paperwork, she and my kids could enter Japan.

It’s unclear if this latest ban will be extended even further. One Japanese politician even expressed her desire to prevent all taxing-paying foreigners with resident visas from re-entering the country should they travel abroad.

In the meantime, it will certainly be more difficult to enter the country, even for Japanese citizens. Today, at the government’s request, both ANA and JAL suspended any new bookings for inbound flights, even for Japanese nationals who are currently overseas. Of course, they could enter the country on another airline.

Going into this fall, I thought surely by next spring Japan will have once again opened up. I don’t feel that way now.

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