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Japan's strict border measures against foreigners may go beyond scope of law: scholar

Individuals seeking to enter Japan form a line at a quarantine inspection station at Narita International Airport on Nov. 29, 2021 one day before the national government banned in principle new entries by foreign nationals. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

TOKYO -- Following the arrival of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in Japan, the national government has enforced border control measures from the end of November that in principle ban new entries by foreign nationals.

    The Mainichi Shimbun sat down with Isami Sawai, a research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, who is familiar with border enforcement measures under the coronavirus pandemic, to discuss what was problematic about the government's measures that locked foreigners out of the country. Below is an excerpt of Sawai's remarks during the interview.

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    The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act serves as the legal basis for the recent border control measures. The immigration law has a provision that mentions foreign nationals "whom the Minister of Justice has reasonable grounds to believe are likely to commit an act which could be detrimental to the interests or public security of Japan" as people who can be denied entry into the country. The Immigration Services Agency of Japan deems foreign nationals who are possibly infected with the coronavirus as individuals that fall under this description. However, using this provision as a basis to impose border restrictions on all foreigners can be said to be an application that goes beyond the scope of what is stipulated in the law.

    The other day, I filed a freedom of information request with the Immigration Services Agency, asking that they reveal documentation on discussions over whether the border restrictions were conforming to the law or not. However, they replied that there were no such documents.

    Isami Sawai, a research fellow at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, is seen in this photo provided by him.

    Rather than finding issues with such foreigners themselves, the Japanese government probably wants to narrow down the number of people entering the country as the quarantine system at airports and other places has a small and weak capacity, but as a result, the measures appear to be taking a toll on foreign nationals.

    There is a clause specifying "circumstances which should be considered on humanitarian grounds" as exceptional conditions for allowing foreign nationals' entry. However, whether a case should be taken into account on humanitarian grounds or not is decided at the discretion of diplomatic missions, such as embassies, and it is possible that this clause is being exercised within an extremely small range of cases.

    Furthermore, since the end of November, foreign nationals without a certificate of eligibility for resident status have not been able to enter Japan, even if they are spouses of Japanese nationals. G-7 countries besides Japan have not gone as far as locking out foreign spouses of their own citizens, and the stringent measures by Japan stand out sharply.

    In Japan, from the old days, there have been many people accustomed to living away from family due to job transfers and other reasons. However, there are people from other countries who are not so familiar with such a culture. Furthermore, those who are going to the trouble of entering the country under the current circumstances of the pandemic are people who have their own urgent reasons. There are many people who claim they are mentally unwell as they have not been able to meet family for a prolonged period. "Family bonds" are often talked about in Japan, but viewing the current reality, it seems that families of foreign nationals are being excluded from this narrative.

    (Original Japanese interview by Motomi Kusakabe, Foreign News Department)

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