Japan sets up panel to review foreign trainee program


The Japanese government set up Tuesday a panel of experts mainly composed of academics, municipal government chiefs and lawyers who will review the country’s problematic foreign technical intern program and propose ways to improve it.

An increasing number of cases of harassment and abuse of foreign trainees has resulted in mounting criticism at home and abroad for the decades-old program, with claims that it is a cover for companies to import cheap labor rather than a program to transfer skills to developing countries.

Akihiko Tanaka, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a governmental aid agency, will chair the panel with 14 other members who will hold their first meeting by the end of the year, according to the Immigration Services Agency of Japan.

The members are expected to meet once a month and compile a midterm report around next spring before submitting a final report around the fall of 2023. Relevant government ministries and agencies will then revise the actual program.

“We hope for active discussions regarding appropriate measures for receiving foreign human resources,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

At study sessions held by the justice minister earlier this year, participating experts said there was a lack of information shared to both trainees and employers prior to the start of the internships, which has led to a discrepancy between wages and skills.

Among other issues discussed included trainees incurring large debts to enter Japan, working illegal hours and not receiving wages.

The panel is expected to hold discussions based on such findings.

Japan introduced the training program for foreigners in 1993, primarily for the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, with trainees allowed to work for up to five years at such workplaces.

In 2017, a law designed to strengthen the supervision of companies and farms that accept foreigners working under the government trainee program took effect, with plans to review its operations five years after enforcement.

As of the end of June, there were around 328,000 people residing in Japan as technical trainees, according to the Immigration Services Agency.




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