Foreign trainees forced to pay huge fees to mediators

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Two Vietnamese former technical interns, at right, dine on New Year’s Eve with staff members at a nonprofit organization that offered them shelter in Nakano Ward, Tokyo.

Foreign trainees in Japan’s technical intern program come to this nation after paying huge fees to mediation agencies in their home countries, but the actual cost is not clear and some of the fees are suspected to have gone to the Japanese side as kickbacks.

Mediation agencies recruit foreign technical intern trainees in their home countries and provide them with Japanese language training prior to their arrival in Japan. They dispatch trainees at the request of supervising organizations that arrange the job placement in Japan. As of December 2022, about 2,300 agents in 16 countries had been approved by relevant governments.

“I was forced to borrow a lot of money and I worried that I couldn’t pay it back,” said a Vietnamese trainee who came to Japan as a technical intern in the summer of 2019.

The 27-year-old, who was a truck driver in a Vietnamese regional city, met with a broker through a relative that spring to seek job opportunities in Japan. He was asked to pay about ¥800,000, which the broker said was to be paid to a mediation agency.

The man’s monthly salary at the time was ¥35,000. He managed to collect ¥200,000 from his savings and other sources, and borrowed the remaining ¥600,000 from a bank using his uncle’s property as security. The broker did not give him a receipt nor inform him of the cost breakdown.

After arriving in Japan, the man was forced to engage in hard labor, pouring concrete at a construction company in Yamanashi Prefecture. He was told he would earn ¥180,000 a month, but in fact received take-home pay of just ¥80,000 to ¥90,000. Illegal overtime and the harassment of trainees was rampant, and the man fled after a year, thinking that he could not pay back his debts if he continued working like this.

He was helped by a nonprofit organization that supports trainees, worked part-time at a ramen shop and returned to Vietnam in the summer of 2021. He still owes about ¥100,000 and wonders where the large sum of money he paid went.

Brokerage fees

Among the countries that send trainees to Japan, Vietnam dispatches the largest number at about 200,000. The average amount collected by mediation agents is the highest as well, at ¥680,000. Why is it so expensive?

“That’s because the fees paid to brokers are added to the trainees’ fees,” said a Japanese man who works for a mediation agency in Hanoi.

The man said many of the prospective trainees who wish to go to Japan are from rural areas with low incomes, and mediation agencies in cities that lack human networks rely on brokers to recruit them. Brokers can range from influential local figures and former trainees to Japanese language school instructors, and it is not uncommon for multiple brokers to act as intermediaries.

Brokerage fees are rising. In fields that are struggling to recruit trainees, such as construction and agriculture, the brokerage fee used to be ¥160,000 but has climbed to ¥200,000 amid the global labor shortage.

The Vietnamese government considers the unfair financial burden on trainees to be a problem and enacted a law in January 2022 prohibiting the practice of charging brokerage fees to workers.

According to the Japanese man, however, “It’s hard to recruit trainees without the involvement of brokers, so the regulations are not very effective.”


“The kickbacks that Japanese supervising organizations receive in return for job offers are increasing trainees’ payments,” said a Japanese man who ran a mediation agency in Vietnam until a few years ago.

The chairman of a supervising organization in the Chubu region once said to the man, “We can accept 20 trainees in the sewing industry. How much will you pay us?”

In addition to kickbacks, it is customary to cover the food and accommodations for supervising organization staff who visit the mediation agency, and this expense is also added to trainees’ burden.

“Food companies and the like, where working conditions are said to be relatively good, are popular among trainees, and there’s competition for jobs,” a 32-year-old Vietnamese man at a mediation agency said. “It’s become the norm to pay kickbacks to the supervising organizations.”