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Japan announces border opening for international students

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Japan, which has been closed to international students for almost a year because of COVID, will gradually begin opening its borders this month
  • International students will be accepted in phases linked to when they received their entry visas earlier this year
  • At this time, students will still have to quarantine upon arrival – for 14 days if unvaccinated and for 10 if vaccinated

Update: The Japanese government closed the country’s borders again effective 30 November out of concerns over the Omicron variant. The Japan Times reports that, “New restrictions will encompass all new entries — including foreign exchange students, interns and those traveling for business — from every country in the world.” The new measures are meant to be in place until the end of December 2021 but that is of course subject to change.

There is good news on the horizon for international students who have been unable to return to Japan this year for their studies because of COVID travel restrictions: they are being treated as a priority group for the easing of border restrictions beginning this month.

Since January 2021, international students have been barred from entering Japan as part of the Japanese government’s strategy for lowering COVID infections in the country.

The government announced last week that it will begin relaxing border restrictions for international students and technical interns as well as businesspeople through the month of November and onward. However, those who will be permitted entry must have gone through the process of being pre-approved, and different rules will apply to students than to businesspeople.

Nikkei Asia reports that of the hundreds of thousands of people who have entry visas for Japan but have been unable to enter Japan for months, 150,000 are international students. Along with technical interns, these students make up 70% of those waiting to enter Japan.

In 2019, 312,214 international students were studying in Japan, making the country a top destination for Asian students in particular. That year, China sent 124,436 students, up 8% over 2018 and Vietnam sent 73,389 students. Rounding out the top five sending markets for Japan in 2019 year were Nepal (8.4% of the total, 26,308 students), South Korea (5.8%, 18,338 students), and Taiwan (3%, 9,584 students).

Still cautious

The return of students won’t happen instantly: a former government official told Times Higher Education that “it could be at least a month before the first overseas students reach Japanese soil” and noted that there is some fear that there could be public backlash against international students if COVID infections went up after they began returning to the country.

That said, international students can begin the process of returning to Japan imminently. The Japan Times reports that students who received residence permits between January 2020 and March 2020 will be allowed to apply to enter Japan this month, while those who received permits later than March 2020 will be able to apply to enter beginning in December 2021. The universities to which they will return are expected to “manage their behaviour” and report to the government on safety protocols being taken in order to minimise the risk of spreading COVID.

Grace Zhu, China branch manager for industry consultancy Bonard, told Inside Higher Ed that despite the cautious reopening plans, “Parents and students are becoming optimistic.” She added “that agencies had started encouraging students to prepare their applications to enter the country for April 2022.”

Unlike businesspeople, who will be allowed to self-isolate for only three days if they offer proof of vaccination, incoming students will need to quarantine for 14 days, or 10 days if they are vaccinated.

All those with questions about how to apply for entry can call a hotline that the government has set up: +81-3-3595-2176, open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. seven days a week.

For additional background, please see:


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