TOKYO • Japan will allow some resident foreigners to re-enter the country on humanitarian grounds, after facing criticism that its policies made their return uncertain and has 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 and India.
Unlike many other advanced economies, permanent residents who call Japan home and spouses of Japanese nationals were among those forbidden to enter.
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 last year.
Some resident foreigners are currently stuck outside the country, while others have missed family funerals overseas due to the travel ban. Japanese nationals are permitted to return.
Public broadcaster NHK, which reported the news, said the 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 this month, has said it is in discussions with Vietnam about the resumption of business travel between the two countries.
The Asahi 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 Covid-19.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi has said the 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 come to the test next year when Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics, which were pushed back by a year due to the pandemic.