Japan to ease border controls in June, bringing policy in line with G7 states

Japan will further ease border controls implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and bring them on par with other Group of Seven nations in June, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Thursday.

The infection situation has been stabilizing in Japan and the government will consult with public health experts before reviewing the country’s COVID-19 measures “in stages,” Kishida said at a news conference in London, without giving further details.

Japan initially enforced an effective ban on the entry of nonresident foreign nationals late last year, drawing criticism at home and abroad that the measures were too strict.

The government has been easing the rules, currently allowing up to 10,000 people a day to enter Japan. Visitors are limited to businesspeople, technical interns and students, while foreign tourists are still not allowed in.

Calls have been growing in business circles for easing the travel restrictions. Members of a government panel recently said the country’s travel controls should be normalized “as soon as possible.”

Border easing would be welcomed by Japan’s tourism industry, which has been urging the government to allow in more overseas visitors to take advantage of the weakening yen.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Japan had been keen to boost tourism as a driver of economic growth, with a goal in 2020 to attract 40 million foreign visitors. Japan’s strict border controls as well as similar measures by other countries amid the global health crisis, however, made the target unachievable. The number of foreign visitors expanded fivefold between 2011 and 2019.

Due to the nation’s strict border measures, the number of foreign visitors extending from nearly 32 million in 2019 to 250,000 in 2021. Countries including South Korea and New Zealand have recently reopened to tourists, although China’s borders are effectively sealed as the country pursuits a “ COVID zero” strategy.

Kishida was in Britain on the final leg of his eight-day tour that also took him to Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Italy.

Prior to his meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Kishida for investment in Japan as he aimed to rejuvenate the Japanese economy.

“Invest in Kishida,” the Japanese leader told an audience at the City of London, or London’s primary financial district.

To achieve his goal of creating a new form of capitalism, Japan’s revival as an international financial center is needed, Kishida said, pledging to boost investment in human resources, innovation, startups along with green and digital technology.

“I will promote bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal policy and growth strategies that would trigger private-sector investment,” he said.

The yen’s sharp depreciation has become a headache for resource-poor Japan.

Before the pandemic, Japan reaped the benefits of sharp gains in foreign tourists but with the strict border control steps in place, such tourists have been unable to enter the country to take advantage of the weak yen.

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