• Yomiuri Editorial

End of Technical Intern Program: Use Reformed System to Improve Working Environment for Foreigners

Japan’s system of bringing in foreign human resources will be drastically changed. As competition for workers intensifies internationally, it is important to improve the working environment for foreign nationals and make Japan the country foreign of their choice.

The government has decided to create a new “training and employment” program — replacing the technical intern training program — to focus on securing human resources as well as providing training for foreign employees. It will allow foreign nationals to work in Japan for three years. The government aims to revise related legislation during the current Diet session and plans to introduce the new program after preparing an environment for accepting workers.

The technical internship program, which began about 30 years ago, was designed for Japan to make an “international contribution” by equipping trainees in Japan with skills that they could use after returning to their home countries. But in reality, it has become a means of securing a labor force.

The system to protect workers’ rights is inadequate, and problems such as long working hours and nonpayment of wages have occurred one after another. There were many cases of interns disappearing.

The new training and employment program will aim to “secure and foster human resources,” with a clear objective of addressing Japan’s labor shortage. This is a major policy shift in that foreign nationals will be accepted into the labor force regardless of whether they have skills.

Under the new program, foreign nationals will be allowed to change jobs within the same industry after working for one to two years. Under the technical intern training program, foreign interns changing jobs on their own initiative was prohibited in principle.

The inability to freely choose a workplace and the inability to escape from harsh work environments have been major factors in the disappearances of interns. It is only natural for foreigners to be able to choose where they work of their own volition.

The government had intended to limit the period during which foreign nationals cannot change jobs to one year, but the Liberal Democratic Party voiced concerns that this would lead to an excessive flow of human resources from rural areas to urban areas, so the government decided to set the period at up to two years. Employers who want to keep their foreign workers from changing jobs should give them pay raises and other improvements in their treatment.

The new program will be designed to link to the specified skilled worker residence status, which is granted to those with advanced skills.

The industries in which foreigners will be accepted for the training and employment program will be made the same as those now covered by the specified skills residence status system, such as construction, agriculture and lodging. Workers who pass an examination will be transferred to the specified skills worker status and will be able to work for a longer period of time.

Japan’s working-age population is tapering off, and a serious labor shortage is expected to continue. In order to secure talented human resources, Japan must change its past approach of regarding foreign nationals as inexpensive labor.

Under the technical intern training program, there were many cases in which foreigners paid large fees to dispatching organizations and came to Japan laden with debt. It was also pointed out that supervisory bodies in Japan charged with overseeing companies that accept trainees have not been functioning properly.

It is important not only to create a new program, but also to solve such problems one by one.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 10, 2024)