A government-appointed expert panel has proposed drastic reforms for the foreign technical intern training program. In essence, it calls for the abolishment of the present technical trainee system in favor of a totally new one. Details of the new system will be spelled out in a final report due to be completed in the near future.
Under the new system, if a person has worked at the same job for more than one year and meets certain conditions, he or she will be allowed to change employers (change jobs) within the same field. One of the conditions is Japanese language proficiency. In principle, the current system does not permit such job hopping.
Problems Behind the Push for Change
The number of foreign technical intern trainees numbered approximately 320,000 as of the end of 2022. Problems such as unpaid wages and physical abuse continue to plague the system. And it has been criticized as a hotbed of human rights violations.
They are not allowed to change jobs. However, there is no end to the number of trainees who feel compelled to leave their jobs because of the poor working conditions.
The number of trainees whose whereabouts were unknown in 2020 was the second highest on record at about 9,000. This is an embarrassing situation for Japan. Reforms to correct it are definitely called for.
Naturally, all possible measures must be taken to protect human rights. But we also need to recognize that losing track of these individuals could affect the public safety of the community.
Strengthening the Program
In order to remedy inappropriate working conditions for trainees, it is also essential to strengthen the functions of supervisory guidance and support. That includes the supervisory bodies that serve as intermediaries in acceptance of foreign nationals.
Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are concerned that if job transfers are widely allowed, trainees in rural areas will depart for urban areas where wages are higher. But that is not a reason for restricting job transfers. Rather, it is more important to create an environment where apprentices are motivated to work in rural areas.
The new system should be specifically designed to address such concerns.
The goals of the system also need to change. The current technical internship program is characterized as an "international contribution" to help create human resources that will play a key role in the economic development of the home countries of the trainees.
The new system will also aim at addressing the shortage of workers in Japan. It would help address the problem caused by Japan's declining population by "securing and developing human resources."
Training Under the New System
Trainees would first have to complete the three-year training period under the new system. Then, workers "with specified skills" would be encouraged to change their status to "specified skilled worker." The system would also encourage companies to improve their working environments and take responsibility for helping foreign workers acquire specified skills.
However, even as we move to a new system, we should not let it become an easy route to immigration into Japan. As has been demonstrated in Europe, such an approach can create a variety of social problems.
The government aims to submit legislation related to the reforms to next year's ordinary Diet session. The system will thus be undergoing fundamental reform thirty years after its creation.
Even after it takes effect, the new system should be constantly reviewed to enhance its effectiveness.
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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun