Why reviewing Japan’s COVID-19 entry restrictions opens our doors to diversity and innovation

Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.
Representative Director, JANE

The impact of COVID-19 is making us re-examine many social and working norms. Companies who have moved with agility to reposition their workforce and challenge existing norms have found ways to thrive.

It’s during times lik­­­e these that we need to draw on all our resources and talent. That’s why I called for a review of Japan’s COVID-19 entry restrictions for foreign nationals. As Representative Director of the Japan Association of New Economy (JANE), I’m proud to advocate for policy that drives innovation through diversity of talent, addresses labor shortages and creates new demand. Embracing innovation and entrepreneurship as paths to further growth for Japan is also something I’m relentlessly passionate about.

Close the nation’s doors to the diversity that drives innovation and we are in danger of stagnation. That’s why JANE appealed to the Japanese government on August 17 to take the following measures:

1. Move swiftly to improve the capability of PCR tests upon arrival and, as soon as possible, ease the entry restrictions for foreign nationals with permanent resident status or similar residency permits based on ethnic or family status to the same level as those for Japanese nationals.

2. In addition to the above measures, while continuing to monitor the progress of COVID-19 inside and outside Japan, as well as the capability of PCR tests upon arrival, gradually extend the easing of entry restrictions to those with working visas, students studying abroad in Japan and others.

3. Accelerate negotiations with other countries to expand the “Business Track” and “Residence Track” programs and open these programs for applications from relevant countries as soon as possible.

4. Continue the programs being implemented to support foreign nationals staying in Japan by extending the periods of their current residence permits and helping them move from industries with declining demand to industries with growing demand, as well as provide the necessary support to foreign nationals in accordance with their residency status in order to ensure Japan continues to be recognized as a welcoming nation for foreign nationals.

Forward strides and next steps

I am happy to share that Japan has taken swift action on two central tenets of our appeal. As of September 1, Japan now allows not only permanent residents, but all those with a valid visa to reside in Japan, to re-enter the country under almost the same guidelines as Japanese citizens.

This was an important step forward. But we must not be content to stop there.

At present, it is still extremely difficult for foreign nationals to apply for residence or to visit Japan for business or study purposes. 

It is encouraging to hear that the government is working to resume cross-border travel in phased measures by expanding the number of countries that can use the Business Track and Residence Track frameworks for entering Japan. We should continue to broaden the list in line with local conditions and new developments in the global pandemic.

We won’t know who our next prime minister will be until mid-September, but I very much hope they will take this opportunity to review Japan’s COVID-19 entry restrictions and acknowledge the value of openness to foreign talent.

My own company has experienced both credit and criticism for our commitment to leveraging diverse talent. Rakuten has made English its official language, and historically the proportion of our new engineering recruits with a non-Japanese background has been as high as 80 percent; all together, about a fifth of all our employees are non-Japanese, representing more than 70 nationalities in our Tokyo headquarters alone. Our revolutionary new mobile network would not have been possible without the contribution of international talent working on the ground in Japan. The ideas, skills and energy of our vibrant team have been fundamental to Rakuten’s global success.

2020 has been a challenging year, but now is the time for us to walk together with pride in our diversity and community. Japan’s future as a global economic and innovation leader may depend on it.

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