COVID 19: the struggle of foreign workers and students facing a still closed Japan


“Depression, anxiety”: Hundreds of thousands of foreign workers and students suffer from being still banned from entering Japan, which continues to apply drastic border restrictions against COVID 19, despite adverse consequences for its economy and its attractiveness.

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The Archipelago remains inaccessible for almost all non-residents at present, a glaring exception among the G7 countries. The government had opened the door a crack in November, only to close it again as soon as the Omicron variant appeared.

This border lockdown is popular with Japanese public opinion, according to polls, and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida recently extended it until the end of February.

However, this did not prevent Japan from being caught up in turn by Omicron, and currently suffering a record wave of new infections – exceeding 50,000 per day.

This makes the closure of the country even more absurd for those who are victims of it, especially since a strict quarantine awaits authorized travelers upon arrival.

“Cutting human exchanges so essential for Japan’s long-term national interests is not a viable strategy,” denounced a hundred academics specializing in US-Japan relations last week in an open letter to Mr. Kishida.

“It undermines Japan’s diplomatic goals and its status as an international leader,” they also said.

Almost “xenophobia”

Michael Mroczek, the president of the European Business Council (EBC) in Japan, deplored to AFP an “irrational” measure almost akin to “xenophobia”.

Many companies in Japan are “losing skilled labor” because their overseas recruits, tired of waiting, sometimes end up giving up, according to Mr. Mroczek.

The charismatic boss of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, also criticized on Twitter an “illogical” choice by the government, which he compared to the isolationist policy of Japan during the Edo period, from the 17th to the mid 19th century.

Now that Omicron has become dominant in Japan, continuing to treat this variant as a threat from abroad is “out of touch with reality”, added Masakazu Tokura, president of Keidanren, Japan’s main employers’ organization, on Monday.

Santosh, a 28-year-old Nepalese, has been waiting since September 2020 to be able to return to Japan, where a local company wants to hire him in its international marketing division.

“If I cancel my plan to work in Japan, then my six years of study there will have been for nothing,” he told AFP.

Among the approximately 370,000 people waiting to enter the Archipelago are nearly 150,000 students, according to the Japanese immigration agency.

Many of them take online courses, sometimes with a significant time difference. “It’s a nightmare,” says Leeloo Bos, a 21-year-old Frenchwoman forced to stay awake until 3-4 a.m. to follow her Japanese lessons.

“It pisses me off”

Hana, 29, is worried about the possibility of not being able to validate her first year of doctorate in veterinary sciences this spring at a Japanese university, which she is currently following online in her country of origin, Iran.

“I have to carry out experiments with molecules that I can only access in the laboratory of my university” in Japan, she told AFP, saying she had suffered for months from “depression and anxiety” because of uncertainties about his research project.

“Universities in Japan are also suffering from the closure of the country,” notes the doctoral student. If the door doesn’t open quickly for foreign students, “most of us will give up on Japan”, she predicts, considering themselves going to North America if their situation does not unblock from here. April.

Tens of thousands of dependents of foreign residents in Japan (spouses, children) are also affected.

Yanita Antoko, for example, has been waiting for over a year to be allowed to join her husband in Japan. “It really makes me angry,” said the 30-year-old Indonesian to AFP, regretting that it is delaying their plan to start a family.

Requested by AFP, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs ensures that it takes into account “special cases” for access to the country, for “humanitarian” or “national interest” reasons.

Last week, Japan authorized the arrival of 87 foreign students on state scholarships: a drop in the ocean.

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