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EDITORIAL | Safeguard Technical Interns with Reforms in Training Program

The recommendations of the Japanese experts’ panel address the rampant problems faced by technical interns, such as physical abuse and unpaid wages.



foreign workers
Former technical intern Le Thi Thuy Linh was acquitted of abandoning the corpses of her stillborn twins. She holds a press conference after the Supreme Court hearing at the Judicial Press Club in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo in February. (© Kyodo)

The Japanese government's expert panel is preparing an interim report on the Technical Interns Training Program. This program has been criticized as a hotbed of human rights violations. The report is expected to include recommendations for abolishing the program and creating a new system.

It has been 30 years since the program was established. Finally, a path towards improving its human rights issues is being developed. It goes without saying that the system should be fundamentally reformed. In its stead, the government must make every effort to establish a working environment that safeguards human rights.

Problems with Current Practices

There are rampant reports of harsh realities for technical trainees, such as physical abuse and unpaid wages. There are also problems with malicious brokers who force trainees into debt in exchange for facilitating their entry into Japan. Many technical trainees find the situation unbearable and disappear as a result.

Of course, only part of the cases present such injustices. However, at the root of the problem is that the system is being used to secure cheap labor. And it is used to supplement the labor shortage. These deviate far from the original purpose of the system, which was to provide opportunities for acquiring technical skills and nurturing human resources in Japan.

Because technical training is the nominal purpose, there are restrictions in principle on transferring to another training location. But, as a consequence, interns are left with nowhere to turn to and become victims of their circumstances. It is evident that there are structural problems with the system.

foreign workers
Lawyers hold up banners reading "Not Guilty" in front of the Supreme Court after the final court decision is issued on March 24 in the case against Vietnamese technical intern Leh Thi Thuy Linh. She was accused of abandoning the corpses of her stillborn twins. (© Kyodo)

Assessing the Program

The expert panel's draft interim report recognizes these concerns. Accepting trainees as laborers while maintaining the purpose of the program as human resource development is "undesirable," it concludes. 

The panel calls for the abolition of the current system. In its place it proposes the establishment of a new system that not only develops, but also safeguards, human resources. This is reasonable.

Furthermore, it recommends considering the relaxation of job transfer restrictions. 

Guidance, supervision, and support of the organizations supervising the training programs is inadequate, the report further finds. It also calls for strict exclusion of organizations that do not correct human rights violations and inappropriate employment practices. All of these suggestions should be materialized in an effective format.

Maintaining the Specified Skilled Worker Program

The expert panel calls for keeping the Specified Skilled Worker Program in place. This program was introduced in 2019 to accept foreign nationals with high skill levels in 14 fields and Japanese language proficiency. 

Meanwhile, currently occupations under the Technical Interns Training Program and the Specified Skills Worker Program (SSW) are not aligned. However, the goal is to align them so that technical trainees can smoothly transition to the Specified Skills Worker Program.

Foreign scrutiny of the Technical Interns Training Program has been harsh. For example, a US Department of State report points out human rights violations under the program. It is important for Japan, as the 2023 chair of the Group of Seven (G7) nations, to demonstrate its clear intention to improve this situation. 

At the same time, it is important to note that this is not an immigration issue. We should not easily loosen the door for immigrants who would threaten the quality of Japanese society.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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