By KEITA NAKAMURA, Kyodo Press Office
TOKYO — Singaporean Adeline Leng is due to start studying at a language school in Japan last April, but is still unable to travel to the country due to its strict COVID-19 border controls.
Leng, 26, started the application process 16 months ago and since then the wait has been long and increasingly difficult.
“When the timeline moved on and we got to about August, after the (Tokyo) Olympics, and September, October, that’s when the stress of not being able to get into Japan started to kick in. reach me,” Leng told Kyodo.
News in an online interview.
Japan has banned entries for non-resident foreigners since November 30 last year, days after the World Health Organization designated the highly contagious strain of the Omicron coronavirus “a variant of concern”.
The policy, which will be in place until at least the end of February, has left up to 140,000 people who had hoped to start their studies in Japan unable to take their places.
Amid international criticism that the country’s tight border controls are unreasonable and discriminate against foreigners, some students continue to wait for permission to enter while others have already given up. Some have changed their destinations to other countries like South Korea.
Born in Singapore, Leng moved to Australia when he was 10 years old. But long before that, Leng, who has a Japanese grandmother, had wanted to live in Japan. She remembers finally telling her parents about her desire when she was 13 or 14, but was told she would face language and cultural barriers as a “not 100% Japanese” person.
Nonetheless, her desire to one day move to the country remained, and she began studying the language in high school.
Leng holds a master’s degree in architecture and urban design, but changed careers to digital design after the pandemic hit, saying “the construction industry is not doing very well.”
Around the same time, she entered into a relationship with an Australian partner who lives and does business in Japan.
Finally, she had a good chance “to fulfill my dream of going to Japan to study, work and live,” she said, explaining that her goal was to one day work for a Japanese tech company.
Adeline believes Japan’s entry restrictions on foreigners have been too strict, leading to high “emotional costs”.
She was “stuck in limbo,” she says. “There is no way for me to go back to my old life.”
In October last year, she returned to Singapore due to the worsening COVID-19 situation in Australia and is still waiting for the day when she can live her dream in Japan.
Some like-minded friends have already moved to European countries that accept international students.
Meanwhile, for Brazilian Anais Cordeiro de Medeiros, plans to study in Japan have all but gone up in smoke.
The 29-year-old was due to attend a graduate school in Tokyo for two years from April, the start of the Japanese fiscal year, in 2020. She had already packed her bags home in the city of Rio Branco, in western Brazil, when the pandemic situation worsened.
“I quit my job, sold my car and did everything I could to help raise money” to live in Japan, she said. “Despite trying to adapt to the reality imposed on me, I never gave up on Japan.”
Even though there is a 14-hour time difference, she decided to take online classes at the graduate school in Tokyo and stay ready to go anytime.
“My biological clock is out of order,” she said, adding, “If I could go to Japan, of course, it would be amazing to study in a healthier way.”
The ‘discriminatory’ travel ban will undoubtedly have ‘very negative social effects, not only for those who cannot travel to Japan, but also for Japan,’ she said, tears streaming down his face. “I am not a threat. I’m just a student.
After completing his master’s thesis by studying remotely for nearly two years and booking flights to Japan “more than 10 times” to no avail, graduation is fast approaching. If it’s any consolation, maybe she could attend the launch event in Tokyo in mid-March.
Under Japan’s current border policy, non-resident aliens cannot enter Japan unless they fall under “special exceptional circumstances”.
Davide Rossi, who runs a Tokyo-based company to help foreign students study in Japan, condemns Japan’s “double standard” policies as “absolutely unfair” and “pretty much meaningless”.
“When the government explains this, the ban on further entry of foreigners is to prevent the Omicron from entering, as only foreigners can bring the Omicron in, which of course is not the case,” said said Rossi, 39, adding that the students he knows are all ready to quarantine for as long as necessary.
Rossi, who came to Tokyo as an Italian language student in 2008, last spring set up a Japanese association called “Open Borders to Study Safely” to support foreign students affected by Japanese border controls and share information with them.
“I can’t change things on my own, it’s too big…but I decided to, you know, do something for the students,” Rossi said.
According to Rossi, more and more students who once loved Japan “turned completely into haters”, saying “enough is enough”. “We see a lot of people going to South Korea instead of Japan,” he added.
Among them is a French woman who decided last fall to start living in Seoul in December and attend university there. She had received a working holiday visa in August 2019 to stay in Japan for one or two years from the following year, but her trip never came to fruition.
“I put my life on hold for two years without any information about the end of this wait. I’m 33 and I can’t waste my time forever,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.
Japan’s Ministry of Education says up to 147,000 people were waiting to be admitted to Japan, but a “considerable number” of them would no longer be willing to come.
The entry ban to Japan has come under international criticism, including from the WHO, which urged member countries to lift or relax foreign travel bans in mid-January. , claiming that they did not bring “added value”.
There has also been criticism from domestic business lobbies, who fear that such measures could negatively affect the economy in the long run by reducing the inflow of foreign workers and talented researchers. This could accelerate the country’s chronic labor shortage and precipitate a decline in national strength.
‘Insane’ border control steps ‘remind me of Edo period isolation policy’ from early 17th century to mid 19thand century, Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and CEO of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc., said in Twitter posts in early January.
Nevertheless, Japanese media polls have shown that more than 80% of Japanese people support the current border-tightening policies.
Supported by public opinion, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly boasted that “we are taking the strictest measures” among the industrialized countries of the Group of Seven.
The government has, however, made some exceptions to the ban. It allowed around 400 international students, including 87 government-sponsored students, to enter the country, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno saying the decision was made “in terms of public interest and emergency”.
Matsuno also said the government will “maintain the framework” of its border controls “until the end of February”.
Rossi said the government should show “clear criteria and a timetable” on how and when it will allow foreign entries so foreign students can prepare accordingly. “Like me, even though we are not (government-sponsored students), I think we have a lot of potential in us and we are also very skilled,” Leng said. “In this era of globalization, it is not beneficial for the Japanese people, for Japan and for the world, to maintain a travel ban.