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Japan to permit 100,000 international students to return by May 2022

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • In a departure from its announcement last month that international students would not be prioritised for re-entry to Japan, the Japanese government now says it is planning to bring in tens of thousands of students back to the country before the the new academic year in April
  • Beginning in mid-March, around 1,000 students per day will be permitted to arrive on top of the current daily cap on arrivals in the country
  • Roughly 150,000 international students have been waiting to return to Japan for their studies but have been unable to do so due to prolonged border closures

The Japanese government has just announced a greatly accelerated return plan for international students, which will rely in part on a simplified entry screening system designed to cut red tape for students who have been waiting months to return to Japan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters at a press briefing that as of mid-March, around 1,000 students will be permitted to arrive on top of the current daily cap on arrivals in the country. The cap is currently 7,000 and may increase to 10,000 by April. The goal is to bring in 100,000 international students into the country by end of May 2022, and to bring in as many as possible before the start of the new academic year, which in Japan begins in April.

Nikkei Asia reports that “The education ministry’s new immigration support centre for foreign students will collect entry applications through universities, Japanese-language schools and other institutions, and work with airlines to let students book flights.”

Mr Matsuno’s government has faced months of criticism for continuing to enact strict border restrictions that have led to roughly 150,000 international students being unable to return to Japan during the pandemic. The announcement that most of those students will now be prioritised for entry comes as a bit of a surprise; as recently as last month, the government had maintained that international students would not be treated as a special category for re-entry. Perhaps in part due to vigorous advocacy by education stakeholders and individuals including Davide Rossi, owner of the agency GoGo World and founder of the site EducationIsNotTourism.com, Mr Matsuno is now prepared to change course. In announcing the news of expedited re-entry processes for international students, he said,

“It’s extremely important for us to accept foreign students to enhance our nation’s education and research capability and build amicable relations with various nations.”

Concerns about commercial flights

The return of tens of thousands of international students to Japan in such a short time frame will depend on the ability of commercial airlines to bring them back. Nikkei Asia reports that there may be challenges ahead as a result:

“The [re-entry] programme may not bring in as many people as hoped. Ticket prices have soared as airlines scaled back service amid the pandemic, and it may prove difficult to parcel out seats when students are concentrated in certain countries, such as China.”

It remains to be seen, as well, how many students may have given up on their plans to study in Japan. A January 2020 survey conducted by Mr Rossi found that nearly half (46%) of more than 3,000 student respondents who had wanted to study in Japan decided to switch to another country for their studies.

Before the pandemic struck, Japan was well on its way to achieving its target of hosting 300,000 students by 2020. In 2018, the country recorded another year of double-digit growth, with Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh among the fastest-growing sending markets. That year marked the sixth consecutive year of growth in international enrolments in Japanese education institutions.

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