Abolition of Technical Intern Training Program: Improve Treatment of Foreign Workers under New System

When Japan accepts foreign nationals, the idea of using them as a cheap labor force must be changed. It is necessary to correct the distortion of the technical intern training program, which has caused a spate of troubles.

A government expert panel is scheduled to compile a report soon that will focus on the abolition of the technical intern training program and the introduction of a new system. The government aims to revise the relevant legislation in next year’s ordinary Diet session.

The program began in 1993 with the aim of making international contributions and was designed to allow foreign nationals to learn specialized knowledge and skills while working in industries such as agriculture and construction. At present, 340,000 foreign nationals are working under the initiative.

In reality, however, there is no end to cases in which trainees abscond mainly due to nonpayment of wages and long working hours. Last year, 9,000 trainees disappeared. It is quite natural that the rights of workers, including those of foreign nationals, should be protected.

Competition for human resources is intensifying worldwide. Partly due to the weak yen, an increasing number of people in Asia reportedly are heading to places such as South Korea and the Middle East, as they say that the income they can earn in Japan is insufficient.

It is vital to establish a system to accept foreign human resources in a stable manner and change Japan into a “country of choice” for such people.

The envisioned system will likely position securing human resources as an objective, which was not included in the current program. In principle, if trainees were to pass tests, such as a skills test, after working for three years, they would be allowed to newly obtain the specified skilled worker residence status introduced in 2019 and stay in Japan for five additional years.

In addition, if they acquire expert skills, they will be able to invite family members from their home country to stay in Japan.

If the new system allows foreign trainees to stay in Japan for a longer period, they will be able to work with peace of mind. It may also make it easier for companies suffering from labor shortages to secure human resources.

The new system could allow foreign trainees to change their workplaces on their own volition. After one year of employment, if trainees pass a basic examination, they will be allowed to transfer to another company in the same line of work.

Under the technical intern training program, trainees are not allowed to change their workplaces in principle. This has been pointed out as a reason for trainees absconding. It would be appropriate to allow trainees to flexibly change their workplaces.

Some companies have voiced their concerns, however, saying that it would be troublesome if trainees were to leave after having received a lot of training. If firms want to retain human resources, it is reasonable that they focus on improving the treatment of trainees through such measures as raising wages and securing quality housing for them.

The central and local governments also should make efforts to expand the number of places to teach Japanese to trainees.

It has become a problem that trainees pay a large amount of fees to organizations in their home countries that help send them to Japan and are in debt when they arrive. It is worth considering for Japanese companies that accept trainees to bear some of the travel and other expenses.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 10, 2023)