Urgent Review Needed for System Distorted

While this program claims to contribute to the international community through the development of personnel, the reality is that it is used to secure inexpensive labor. The distorted nature of the technical intern program of foreign trainees must be corrected to facilitate the smooth acceptance of foreign nationals into Japan.

A government panel of experts has compiled a draft of an interim report calling for the abolition of the technical intern program. It also proposed the creation of a new system to secure and train human resources to replace the technical intern program.

The government will further study the issue and aim to revise the legislation as early as next year’s ordinary Diet session.

With the declining birth rate and aging population, the agricultural and manufacturing industries are facing a chronic shortage of labor. In order to maintain economic vitality in the face of a shrinking population, it is essential to stably accept foreign nationals who wish to work in Japan.

The technical intern program was introduced in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills and knowledge to developing countries. At the time, the government did not allow foreign nationals to engage in simple labor, and the program was created as an “international contribution.”

However, many enterprises saw foreign nationals under the program as a labor force. As a result, there were many cases in which foreign nationals were forced to work for low wages. Numerous incidents occurred where employers, for example, took away the trainees’ passports to prevent them from fleeing for reasons including poor working conditions.

It is impossible to maintain such a system that causes various problems due to the discrepancy between its purpose and the reality.

It is unacceptable to have foreign nationals work under poor conditions. It is especially intolerable to commit human rights violations. Measures must be devised to ensure that foreign nationals do not feel that Japan is a difficult place to work.

Currently, there are 340,000 foreign trainees working as technical interns in Japan. The government must work to ensure that any changes to the system do not cause confusion in the workplace.

The government is considering linking the new system to the specified skilled worker residence status introduced in 2019.

The specified skilled worker program was established to secure personnel in 12 lines of business, including nursing care and construction, where there is a significant labor shortage. The advantage for foreign nationals is that they receive the same treatment as Japanese workers and can work longer, but they must acquire a certain level of skills and Japanese language proficiency.

Because changing jobs is allowed, the turnover of trained foreign personnel has become a problem for enterprises. The problem remains that foreign nationals are attracted to urban areas where wages are higher, so it is difficult to secure personnel in rural areas.

How can the new program be linked to the specified skilled worker system? At the end of last year, the number of foreign nationals working as specified skilled workers stood at only 130,000, with the pace of increase slower than initially expected. The government should deepen discussions on issues related to the specified skilled worker program.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 11, 2023)