Japan to increase daily cap on arriving passengers from 3,500 to 5,000

Japan announced Thursday that it will increase the cap on daily arrivals from 3,500 to 5,000 starting Nov. 26 — a move aimed at further easing entry restrictions as COVID-19 cases remain low in the country.

“We’ve been allowing a total of around 3,500 people to enter the country on a daily basis, including Japanese returnees and foreign nationals re-entering the country,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said during a news conference.

“But we have reviewed our approach,” he said, adding that the government decided to ease the restrictions as the number of infections has significantly dropped and the COVID-19 situation in Japan is currently under control.

“If the situation worsens, for instance, due to the spread of new viral mutations, we will need to take a flexible approach,” Matsuno added. “We will continue to examine how we can further ease the restrictions, taking into account the infection situation and the vaccination rollouts in Japan and abroad.”

Earlier in November, the government eased some of its most stringent and controversial entry restrictions, allowing new entries by foreign workers, students and technical interns for the first time since January — albeit gradually.

The government has been setting the daily number of people who can enter the country at 3,500, notifying airlines of the number of passengers allowed on their planes bound for Japan. That has forced airlines to turn down reservations if they receive more than they are allocated.

The policy has triggered strong criticism from universities, who say that even though foreign students are now allowed in, the cap on arrivals has slowed down the process significantly.

Japan has been accepting applications from vaccinated business travelers who want to shorten their quarantine period to three days but so far most ministries have only accepted applications by mail. The government is hoping to make applications available online from Monday.

The revision will also allow vaccine passports and other forms of vaccination records to be checked upon entry.

Currently, fully vaccinated business travelers can enter Japan under the supervision of their employers or sponsoring companies. Such travelers need to take a COVID-19 test on the third day after their arrival and if the test comes back negative, they will be allowed to participate in work-related activities from the following day.

Employers and sponsoring companies must submit a plan for their new arrivals, including where they will stay and where they will go between the fourth and tenth days after their arrival. The plan must be pre-approved by relevant ministries. As a result, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI) has been receiving about 700 inquiries a day.

The recent easing of rigorous restrictions has been welcomed by the business community in particular, but the cumbersome screening process has been a challenge for the applicants and other parties involved.

“New reporting requirements imposed on sponsoring companies and organizations, as well as other regulatory requirements, mean that Japan will remain more difficult to enter than most of its major economic partners, including other G7 countries,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan said in a joint statement on Nov. 12, along with six other chambers of commerce in Japan.

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