Japan’s labor ministry to investigate financial burden on foreign trainees

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The building that houses the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

The labor ministry plans to launch its first on-site investigation of overseas organizations that dispatch technical intern trainees in fiscal 2023, to examine the financial burden endured by trainees and possible human rights violations, according to sources.

Japan has a labor shortage due to its chronically low birthrate, and working here has become less appealing to foreign personnel due to the weakening of the yen. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry believes it will be difficult to secure human resources if the current unfair treatment of trainees is not rectified.

The Technical Intern Training program is intended, in the name of international cooperation, to allow foreign trainees to acquire various skills while working in Japan. As of October 2021, there were about 350,000 such trainees in Japan.

However, 7,167 trainees disappeared in 2021 due to such reasons as low wages. The government believes this is partly caused by the heavy debt that trainees have been saddled with.

According to a survey of about 2,180 technical trainees conducted by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan in 2021 and 2022, trainees paid an average of about ¥540,000 to local organizations and other entities that dispatched them to Japan. More than half the trainees surveyed were in debt before coming to Japan.

Trainees cited such purposes as paying brokers’ fees and for Japanese language training, but some said they were not sure what the money was for. The ministry decided an on-site investigation was needed to ascertain the actual purpose of the payments.

The probe will be conducted in fiscal 2023 mainly in Vietnam and China, countries from which many trainees come to Japan. The ministry plans to ask organizations about the breakdown of the fees collected from trainees, and to examine their monetary transactions with Japanese supervising organizations, which are in charge of receiving trainees.

According to sources, kickbacks from dispatch organizations to supervising organizations have become the norm, and this money is suspected of being added to the fees paid by trainees. Kickbacks are prohibited under the Law on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees, but the actual situation is unclear, so there have been few administrative penalties regarding such payments.

The ministry plans to interview officials of Japanese supervising organizations and companies hiring the trainees, in addition to the trainees themselves. It also intends to look into human rights violations, such as harassment against trainees, failure to pay for overtime work and unfair dismissal, in addition to checking financial transactions with organizations that dispatch trainees.

The ministry will contract a private research firm to conduct the investigation and seek cooperation from diplomatic missions overseas. If any unfair collection of fees by organizations that dispatch trainees is discovered, the ministry will seek to have such practices rectified through bilateral consultations with the relevant country.

The ministry has allocated ¥33 million for this initiative in its draft budget for fiscal 2023.