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Keep an Eye on the Exit as Well as the Entrance

August 28, 2020

In the late sixties, I happened to be in a nearly empty bar in Vientiane, Laos when my companion pointed out three Lao guys across the room saying they were Pathet Lao (Lao communist fighters) and planning to kill me when I left the bar. It was suggested that I say in Lao that I was going the toilet, quickly take the back door and run like hell. It made several distinct impressions on me. The first impression was why would you want to kill someone you do not know in a non-combat situation and, the more lasting mental imprint, was always have an exit plan when in dodgy places. In today’s Covid-19 world, you need an exit plan from any location away from home and assurance that you can re-enter your home base at a later time.  
A recent Nikkei Asian Review article entitled Japan Eases Reentry Ban as Stranded Foreign Residents Weigh Future addressed approximately 200,000 foreign permanent residents of Japan who are stranded overseas. Foreign residents who left Japan before entries of their country of origin were banned are now eligible to return. Others remain locked out overseas with no clarity as to the distinction between dates of departure. As I lived in Japan three years as a permanent resident, it would have been troubling if an emergency required a trip home that could have precluded a return to Japan. The first wave of returning foreigners began August 1, 2020 though, as shown below, the immigration facilities are far from being overwhelmed. 
The uncertainty of foreign executives, educators, engineers and laborers has affected businesses and universities. Therefore, Japan’s attempts to attract foreign talent leaving political situations in the U.S., Europe and Hong Kong are being thwarted by their own actions. The entry ban and uncertainty for the future influenced the decision of The New York Times to relocate its Asia print hub from Tokyo to Seoul. In all respects, Tokyo would certainly be my preferred choice of the two cities in question but continued uncertainty makes it difficult to attract and maintain an organization there. The last thing one wants to do is return to your foreign work location and encounter the setting shown below.  
It is also difficult to comprehend the rules between returning Japanese residents and foreign residents. It involves a level of discrimination of individuals based solely on their nationality and not medical risks. For a period of time, quarantine requirements for entry of U.S. citizens into Japan required a 14-day period in a third country but that outcome was soon eliminated when Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs increased the list of banned countries to 146.  
The re-entry process into Japan requires a coronavirus test in the travelers’ country of origin within 72 hours of departure and a confirmation letter certifying the test from a Japanese Embassy. Getting Covid-19 test results within that time frame in the U.S. would be very problematic given the length of time to obtain test results. An additional test upon arrival in Japan and a further two weeks of quarantine are required. Moreover, as lines shown below at a Japanese Embassy indicate, the crowds themselves afford an excellent location to either acquire or further communicate the virus.  
Relative to living and working abroad, Joey and I have spent most of the past 35 years outside of the United States with London representing a base of operations since 1997 when the company was listed on the London Stock Exchange. On March 13, 2020, the old Friday the 13th catch, the U.S. announced that all U.S. expatriates had to head home for lockdown. We caught the last British Airlines flight on March 16th from London to Austin, Texas. Foolishly, we left most everything in the London corporate flat which has since been released and our personal effects are on the high seas.  
In reality, our conduct of business has not suffered thanks to a strong organization and virtual meetings. However, it is far easier to manage an existing business in Vietnam and Egypt that is headquartered in London than it is to create and develop new opportunities. At some point, it is imperative to be able to return abroad but the critical issue is whether one can re-enter the United States once foreign countries allow us to enter. If things go south, foreigners will be happy for us to exit, but the question remains can we re-enter our home country.  
Recently, The New York Times published an article entitled Trump Considers Banning Re-entry by Citizens Who May Have Coronavirus. The article stated that President Trump was considering new immigration rules that would allow border officials to temporarily block an American citizen or legal permanent resident from returning to the United States from abroad if the authorities have reason to believe the person may be infected with Covid-19. A draft regulation is circulating in Washington that would expand the government’s power to prevent entry into the United States if an official “reasonably believes that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected with the communicable disease.” A quarantine provision would be understandable and certainly more prescriptive than the government’s “come one-come all” policy on large public gatherings. The image below shows a border crossing from Mexico into the United States where such an entry determination could be made.  
Despite the welcoming words on the Statute of Liberty which have become an issue with U.S. immigration authorities, U.S. citizens could encounter difficulties upon re-entry during the pandemic. We recently referenced John Donne’s quote “No man is an island,” though U.S. citizens could readily become unwanted, stateless individuals seeking refuge wherever possible. Why would you cast aside your own citizens in a manner like the Pathet Lao would have done to their enemies back in Laos in the old days?

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