‘Technical intern’ program for foreign nationals to be reviewed

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday.

A training program for foreign nationals will be reviewed by an expert panel that the government plans to set up by the end of the year, Justice Minister Yoshihisa Furukawa announced Friday.

The so-called “technical intern training program” was initiated to support developing countries through the transfer of technical skills, but in reality, foreign trainees have been used as cheap labor.

The government is accelerating efforts to drastically review the program, which has come under international criticism.

The issues to be addressed in the review include communication difficulties due to insufficient Japanese language skills of trainees; debts incurred by trainees to join the program; inadequate consultation and support systems at the supervisory body that oversees host companies and protect trainees; and job switching by trainees.

Established in 1993, the technical intern training program has been plagued by problems.

Assaults and bullying by employers have come to light, and there has been a flood of disappearances of trainees unhappy with the low pay. According to the Justice Ministry, about 7,000 trainees ran away in 2021.

From the start of the program to the end of June this year, 325 entities that accepted foreign trainees have had their certifications revoked.

“It has been pointed out that there is a gap between the program’s purpose of international contribution and the actual situation, in which trainees are used to supplement the workforce amid labor shortages. I accept that point,” Furukawa said at a press conference Friday. “I want to deepen discussions steadily and bring these long-standing issues to a historic conclusion.”

“Technical intern training” is one of the residence statuses that allow foreign nationals to work in Japan. It covers 86 job categories, including construction and food manufacturing, and the maximum period of stay is five years.

According to the ministry, more than 270,000 foreign trainees were staying in Japan as of the end of last year.

The government also plans to launch a review of the “specified skilled worker program,” which was introduced in 2019 to allow foreign nationals to do jobs that involve manual work. The program’s Category I status holders can stay in Japan for up to a total of five years, and Category II status holders can stay for a longer period together with their spouses and children.

Category II status currently covers only the construction, shipbuilding and ship machinery sectors. The government plans to consider expanding the scope of the status to attract more workers.

Foreign trainees can extend their stays by changing to the Category I specified skilled worker status if certain requirements are met.

Furukawa set up a study group in the ministry to look at the technical intern and specified skilled worker programs in January, interviewing professors and lawyers to compile opinions.