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EDITORIAL | New Foreign Interns Program Requires Balancing Act from Gov't  

Japan's technical training program must be safe for and fair to foreign interns, but not make immigration and hopping from employer to employer too easy.



A joint meeting on the acceptance of foreign workers was held at the Liberal Democratic Party headquarters in Nagatacho, Tokyo, on March 18. (© Kyodo)

The government plans to create a new system for the technical training and employment of foreign interns. To that end, it is revising the laws related to the foreign technical intern trainees system and will abolish the existing program. A bill to accomplish this has now been approved by the government and submitted to the Diet.

The technical intern training program was instituted as a form of "international cooperation." It was designed to help develop human resources who could play a role in the economic development of their home countries. The proposed system aims to develop and recruit human resources in line with actual conditions in the economy.

Currently, as a general rule, foreign interns in the program are not allowed to switch jobs at will. This fact has been the focus of much of the discussion. Under the new system, an intern who has worked at the same workplace for more than a year will under certain conditions be allowed to transfer to a different workplace. 

Vietnamese technical interns work at a small science and technology factory in Yao City, Osaka Prefecture, on March 15, 2019. (© Sankei)

Tackling Legitimate Concerns

However, several members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party raised concerns. They worry that allowing this option could result in an outflow of trained foreign workers from rural areas to cities, where wages are higher. Consequently, for now, such transfers can be restricted for up to two years. 

The current technical intern training program has also been criticized as a hotbed of human rights violations. It has been plagued by persistent problems, such as unpaid wages and physical abuse of foreign interns. In many cases, the trainees could no longer endure their poor working conditions. Unable to transfer to different employers, they simply disappeared. 

We must improve the work environment by changing the laws on the books. Allowing transfers would help prevent such disappearances and ensure that every foreign worker can be closely monitored.

Creating an Environment for the Long-Term

Some companies accepting foreign interns counter that if the trainees are allowed to quit early after they have received training, the resources invested in training will have proved wasted. However, companies should bear in mind that this problem can be avoided if they create an environment where employees remain motivated. 

A meeting of the LDP's Special Committee on Foreign Workers held on February 5 at LDP headquarters in Tokyo. (© Kyodo)

The new system aims to train foreign technical trainees within three years up to the level of "Specified Skilled Worker Type I" under the residence status rules. In effect, that would link the new system for trainees to the "specified skills system." It would also create a path for foreign workers to stay in Japan longer. 

A Type I visa permits a trainee to work in Japan for up to five years. Meanwhile, a Type II visa, which requires advanced skills, allows the person to bring family members to Japan. In effect, it allows permanent residence.


It has been pointed out that foreign workers increasingly are leaving Japan due to poor wages. This is compounded by the comparatively low value of the yen. But if transfer restrictions are eased and longer stays become possible, some regions in Japan should see a rapid rise in the number of foreigners coming here. 

Living Together Peacefully with Cautious Vetting

At the same time, even if we move to the new system, we must be careful not to make it too easy for immigrants to come to Japan. We certainly want to avoid situations where public order deteriorates due to friction between local residents and foreigners. We have witnessed this problem in some Western countries and even Kawaguchi in Saitama Prefecture. 

The national government and local governments must do all they can to ensure that Japanese and foreigners can live together with peace of mind. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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