Japan’s strict border rules threaten foreign investment, business groups say

Japan’s biggest international business group has warned that the country’s tight border restrictions risk curbing foreign investment and crushing Tokyo’s efforts to compete as a global financial hub.

Christopher LaFleur, special adviser and former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said a de facto ban on the entry of nonresident aliens would likely deter international companies from maintaining a presence in the country.

“The travel policies that Japan has in place will, at a minimum, significantly set back these efforts. Plus, frankly, they cast doubt on Japan’s willingness to serve as a reliable host for overseas-based companies. and for foreign-sourced investment,” LaFleur told the Financial Times in an interview.

Some companies have been unable to bring in employees to fill positions in Japan or specialists to help serve local customers, making it difficult “to fully maintain their business operations in Japan”, he said. he adds.

The ACCJ has joined a growing chorus of dismay from Japanese business leaders, academics and educational institutions with difficult borders.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reimposed the measures in late November following the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant around the world. Japan saw a record number of new Covid-19 infections this week, with more than 70,000 cases reported on Wednesday, and restrictions are expected to continue until at least the end of February.

The measures were introduced even as the world’s third-largest economy managed to avoid high death tolls and lockdowns imposed in Europe, the United States and China. Japan has recorded less than 19,000 deaths and more than 75% of the population is vaccinated.

Leaders say the move puts Japan at a competitive disadvantage against its G7 peers such as the UK, US and some EU countries, which have eased travel restrictions as Vaccination levels have increased and kept borders open.

“Now that most strains in Japan include the Omicron variant, there is no point in pursuing the measure,” Masakazu Tokura, chairman of Keidanren, Japan’s biggest business lobby group, said Monday.

Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman of Rakuten, the e-commerce platform, warned this month that the brakes were “barriers to innovation” and compared the approach to Japan’s isolationist policies between the 17th and 19th centuries. centuries.

“What is the point of not allowing the entry of new foreign nationals at this stage? This decision is simply too illogical. Do we want to isolate Japan from the rest of the world? he wrote on Twitter.

Japan’s prolonged isolation means businesses are struggling to fill jobs in one of the tightest job markets in the world. The country’s gross domestic product contracted at an annualized rate of 3.6% between July and September last year, and leaders warn the restrictions will make it impossible to attract international talent and hamper global transactions in face to face.

The government has defended the restrictions, with Kishida telling the World Economic Forum last week that he intended to “protect the elderly and other vulnerable people at high risk of infection”, adding that the Japanese public wanted stricter border rules.

A survey by NHK, the public broadcaster, conducted after restrictions were tightened, found that support for Kishida rose by 7 points to 57% and nearly two-thirds of respondents said they supported his handling of the pandemic.

Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, told the World Economic Forum last week that the public supports restrictions aimed at protecting the elderly and vulnerable © AP

Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute, a think tank, said many businesses coped with border restrictions using Zoom and other online tools, softening a blow to the economy. But he said the checks risked giving the impression that Japan had “low awareness of human rights towards foreign nationals”.

The World Health Organization has advised countries to ease travel bans, calling them ‘ineffective’ as they ‘do not add value and continue to contribute to economic and social stress’.

Hundreds of scholars and experts have also signed an open letter to the government, warning that some students in North America are dropping Japanese as a foreign language and focusing on countries they can visit.

A group in Japan led by people separated from family members overseas launched a petition on change.org that garnered around 15,000 signatures, calling on the government to ease controls.

Rakuten hired engineers from India, but many had to stay outside of Japan, meaning they couldn’t test mobile networks for commercial customers in the country.

Chika True-Daniels, who manages human resources for the company’s mobile division, said more than 150 future graduates in India have accepted Rakuten’s job offer this year.

“I’m waiting for them to come, hopefully the borders will be open, after graduation,” True-Daniels said. “We have a lot of projects and positions to fill.

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