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The consequences of Japan’s tight border policies during the pandemic

By Min Luo - Oriental Studies Student @ Hertford College, Oxford


Nearly all countries tightened their border controls when the number of COVID-19 cases rose exponentially throughout the world; this came in the form of restricting foreign flights or stopping visa procedures altogether. It did not come as a surprise when Japan chose to do the same to reduce the spread of infection, but what many could not foresee was just how long the government would choose to close their borders. Students, workers and loved ones were all stranded out of the country, and many are still waiting to gain entry. What type of economic and social consequences can this bring to a country?

With Japan’s infamous ageing population and a prolonged period of slow economic growth, it is expected that Japan will have to rely on foreign workers to bring skills and increase employment rates in the country. The Japan International Cooperation Agency predicts that Japan will need 6.74 million foreign workers by 2040 to recover its economic power. As Japan continues to make cuts in its investment into labour capital, the countries which provide them with the most foreign workers are also now facing an ageing population.

According to JICA, Japan had 1.72 million foreign workers by the end of October 2021, with over 300,000 being foreign students. Thus, accepting workers and students from other parts of the world would aid in closing the gap in employment in different industries. However, the closing of borders because of the pandemic meant that many international students and workers were unable to enter the country and contribute to the Japanese economy. The majority of international students in the academic year of 2021 were unable to step foot onto their Japanese university’s campus altogether. The fact that Japan has fallen from 4th to 10th place in the publication of ‘noteworthy scientific papers’ shows the consequence of the absence of many foreign students and researchers. Other than the tight border policies presenting problems in the economy, the long-term societal impact has yet to become apparent. Perhaps future international students and workers will be deterred from choosing Japan as their destination due to the Japanese government’s attitudes towards foreigners during this pandemic and how easy it is for them to shut out the rest of the world for such a long amount of time.

While the full long-term economic consequences of this are still yet to show themselves in economic growth figures, preventing the entry of workers and students for so long into a country, which already struggles with an ageing population, will most certainly present an array of problems in the future.

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