Unable to enter Japan, with Certificate of Eligibility in Hand: October 2021 Update

As of October 1st, about 370,000 foreigners have not been able to enter Japan due to border measures meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, even though they have been issued Certificates of Eligibility (COEs) from the Immigration Services Agency of Japan. This is according to data compiled by the Nikkei newspaper.

This number represents about 64% of the total 570,000 COEs issued since January 2020. A COE is a document that pre-qualifies a person for get a status of residence (visa) in Japan. Having a COE greatly facilities the visa approval process. About 70% of those unable to enter are international students and technical interns.

Before the pandemic, about 120,000 international students Japan entered Japan each year, but of the approximately 199,000 people who received their Certificates of Eligibility after 2020, about 74% have not been able to enter the country. The number of international students in Japan, which had reached 345,000 by the end of 2019, decreased by 34% to 227,000 by the end of June 2021.

Based on the Nikkei’s analysis, the breakdown by visa category is as follows:

Number of people who have been issued Certificates of Eligibility vs.
Number of people who have NOT entered Japan by visa category; Source: Nikkei
Visa Type Number of COEs Issued Number of people
who have not entered Japan
% who have not
entered Japan
Student 199,600 147,800 74.0%
Technical Trainee 194,900 111,200 57.1%
Dependent 46,300 28,700 62.0%
Engineer/Specialist in humanities/
International services
45,000 24,800 55.1%
Entertainer 16,500 11,800 71.5%
Other 80,600 46,900 58.2%
Total 578,500 371,400 64.2%
Please note that rows do not add to number shown in “Total” row because original data was rounded to the nearest 1000.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is considering easing border controls, but has taken an cautious stance regarding the entry of new foreigners (who do do not already have a status-of-residence), saying that it may lead to an expansion the number of cases due to mutations of the virus.

However, the government has said that it plans to gradually ease border measures following the election of the House of Representatives on October 31st. One of the priority categories is short-term business travelers who can limit their range of activities. The gradual re-opening of the border would also be accompanied by requirements such as proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test.

The effect of the border closure on the labor force has been widespread.

The Nikkei reports, for example, that companies in the construction industry have dealt with the shortage in technical trainees by having their trainees switch to a “designated activities” visa so that they can continue to be employed. Despite, this, the labor shortage in the industry is still severe because of the high number of Japanese people retiring and the lack of younger people entering the industry.

Major izakaya (Japanese-style pub) chains also used to rely a lot on foreign employees, with as many as about 30% of their workforce comprised of non-Japanese. It is expected that when the border opens again and as the economy improves, there will be a scramble recruit foreign employees.

Japanese language schools have also been affected by the border situation. Many are trying to continue providing services, while accepted students remain on the other side of the border, waiting for the easing of border measures.