NHK札幌放送局

International Couples got separated by COVID-19 in JAPAN

シラベルカ

2021年3月11日(木)午後4時17分 更新

NHK Hokkaido received a question from Mr. Masashi Tomita.

“I got married to my wife who lives in the US and trying to meet her in Hokkaido, Asahikawa.
But the government does not allow her to enter Japan. Why international families and couples have to get separated?”

From Masashi's question, we found a critical situation of international couples in this Covid-19 pandemic and decided to listen to those voices.

―― “I miss You.”

Masashi Tomita lives in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.
He works as a Motorcycle dealer and got married to Ms. Kevonnia Antoinette Grant last December.

Kai-chan and Tomizo

“I call my wife Kai-chan, and she calls me Tomizo”

Kevonnia served the US Army as a helicopter engineer. After, she graduated a school to become an aircraft engineer last October. However, due to the critical impact in the US aviation industry, she is working at a local restaurant. She is still living in Pennsylvania and seeking to meet Tomizo in Hokkaido, Japan.
Additional to the severe spread of Covid-19 in the US, she is also facing uncertain social conditions related to racial discrimination and political segmentation. She strongly tells her story to us and explains it is essential for her to come to Japan and live with Tomizo in peace.

Unexpected obstacles against international couples in Japan

Tomizo: Are you working tomorrow?
Kai-chan: Yes. From 5 am.
Tomizo: oh, that could be quite tough
Kai-chan: I'm ok with that because I can see you soon.
Tomizo: Sure we can. But please take care of yourself.
Kai-chan: Thank you. I'm so excited to see you again.

Despite the difficulties they are facing, the couple maintains daily communication.
However, they found another obstacle. The Consulate General of Japan explained to Kevonnia that they cannot issue VISA to enter Japan because of the Covid-19 situation in the nation.

Masashi (Tomizo) listens to her voice.

Tomizo: when we get the documents, we can finally meet at Hokkaido.
Kai-chan: I will do my best, “Ganbaru.”
Tomizo: Yes, “Ganbaru”

According to Masashi, the embassy told him that even if he applies for VISA right now, they cannot approve the application due to the declarable of the State of Emergency in Japan.

What kind of challenges does Masashi need to go through?
In the case of Kevonnia and Masashi, they need to go through several processes.

Step 1: submit Marriage certificate
Step 2: receive Certificate of Eligibility
Step 3: apply for valid VISA
Step 4: PCR check before the international flight
Step 5: 14 days quarantine after the arrival

Kevonnia and Masashi got married last December. Therefore, they have already submitted a Marriage certificate and got the Certificate of Eligibility.

――Difficulty to get VISA approval
However, Masashi and Kevonnia got stacked at the VISA section.
The Consulate General of Japan in New York answered NHK.
“Regarding the State of Emergency declared in Japan, we need to suspend international human traffics. Without the emergency related to human lives, we cannot allow international couples to invite their family to Japan.”
This answer suggests international couples like Masashi and kevonnia cannot receive VISA under the State of Emergency.

However, the declaration is only effective in limited areas such as Tokyo and Kanagawa. Hokkaido, where Masashi is living, is excluded. Yet, all international couples across the nation must wait for the government's decision to lift the State of Emergency across Japan.

――Another obstacle, Quarantine
Even if the government decides to lift the State of Emergency, there is another obstacle.
It is 14 days self-isolation after the arrival.
In the usual case, international travelers have two options; isolation at hotels nearby the airport and isolation at their homes. The latter option is available for people who can use personal transportation methods, such as private cars.

Unexpected Trap
Here, we found an unexpected trap.
Kevonnia cannot privately move to Masashi’s home at Hokkaido.
This issue is because she must use trains or aircraft to move to Hokkaido from the central part of Japan. Even if she uses a private car, she needs to get on a ferry at Aomori.
Therefore, Kevonnia must spend 14 days at hotels nearby the arrival airport.
There are private companies that support people like Kevonnia. They provide transportation, accommodation and foods, but that arrival assistances cost 1000 to 2000 US dollar for 14 days. We cannot deny the financial burden related to the arrival.

Masashi also concern this situation

“We need to book accommodation for 14 days. The cost could be quite expensive, and also, I’m worried about my wife is going to start her new life in Japan alone.”

――How should we deal with this issue?
Masashi and kevonnia are not only the international couple who are dealing with this issue.
Kana Ishii, who lives in Tokyo, began a movement to solve this situation.
Same as Masashi and Kevonnia, Kana also got married to her husband in the US but waiting to start a new life as a family.

Kana started an online campaign to request the government to ease the restriction against international couples. More than 3000 people followed this online campaign.

Many followers express their concerns and frustration.
Kana sent a petition to the government several times, when she got 2000, 2500, and 3000 followers.

Kana expresses,

“Many people are feeling uncertainty and anxiety even one year after the outbreak of the pandemic. We should get connected with love and kindness.”

Some nations had responded to these voices from international couples. In Europe, countries such as Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, and Sweden had decided to ease immigration restrictions given to international couples.

How should international couples maintain their relationships?
How can international couples maintain their relationships under such restrictions? We ask kana for some tips for Masashi.

Kana: I think it is important to share our daily lives as much as possible. I also found cooking the same meals together is pretty good.
Masashi: Oh! I didn’t come up with such an idea!
Kana: Yap so that we can eat the same food. For me, it could be early lunch; for him it could be dinner.

In this long-lasting Covid-19 situation, Kana recommends Masashi to do the same things such as cooking or watching the same film.
Talking only on the phone is not always practical due to time-zone differences and limited topics.
Kana found it is essential to stay connected without pressure.
“Share the usual life” is the best advice that Kana gave to Masashi.

After listening to voices from international couples
The number of international couples is rapidly growing in Japan.
However, we felt those voices are not carefully listened to in this Covid-19 situation. Through the investigation, we found many people were forced to stand alone without proper social supports.

――Standing alone
Kana also expresses unique issues seen in japan related to international couples.

“I heard many couples are facing misunderstandings from people around them. Many people misunderstand international couples are prepared to get separated. However, kana strongly states, `No one could expect this pandemic and forced to live more than one year separately.`”

Kana told us that it is important to connect international couples across Japan and share those feelings with people facing the same issue.
Kana had created an online space where international couples can communicate. She also encourages people to connect on Twitter, Clubhouse, Line, and Facebook with #LoveIsNotTourism.
She states

“We may feel relieved by meeting and communicating with people facing the same problem.”

――You shall seek, you shall find.
Masashi and Kevonnia expressed their spirit in such words. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Countless international couples are trying to get together once again. We may able to say it is a fundamental pain that people cannot see a loved one for such a long time. We truly hope there could be more social understandings and supports for international couples.

Mitsuru Frank Maekawa

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