Foreign technical interns meeting relaxed language criteria in Japan may be able to change jobs if a proposal submitted today is approved by the Cabinet. The revision to Japan’s technical intern training program will free many trainees from abuse of power by employers by giving them options.
LDP reviews revision to allow job change
A government advisory panel will seek approval from the ruling LDP on February 5th to introduce proposals to revise Japan’s technical intern training program.
The Cabinet’s move to enact revisions would allow trainees to switch jobs after one to two years, provided they have certified proficiency at the CEFR A1 to A2 levels. That’s equivalent to levels N5 to N4 of the Japanese Language Profiency Test (JLPT).
The program has not allowed job transfers for three years in its maximum five years of training since taking off in 1993. This leads to technical trainees feeling trapped under abusive employers. About 9,000 trainees in 2022 alone fled from their jobs and disappeared in Japan, an increase of 2,000 from the previous year.
The revision is due to affect over 350 thousand trainees, approximately 50% of whom are Vietnamese, in 86 industries.
The panel proposal by fifteen experts led by JICA president Akihiko Tanaka permits NPOs and Hello Work to mediate job transfers. To address concerns over illegal brokers, it would also bans private businesses’ involvement in the transfer. A third-party auditor and the Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT) will oversee the transfers instead.
How the technical trainee program plugs Japan’s labor shortage
The Technical Intern Training Program grew to 410,000 trainees in 2020 before declining for two years. This was likely due to the pandemic’s impact on immigration.
Numbers are rebounding and reached 358,000 in 2023, more than doubling since 2013. 51.8% are Vietnamese, the largest nationality to represent current trainees, followed by Indonesians and Filipinos.
The industries with the most trainees across all 86 categories are construction, food manufacturing, and mechanics. Trainees complete the program in a minimum of three years with a chance of a two-year extension. Completion of the program allows trainees to apply for vocational skills visas lasting five years.
However, compared to the 86 categories in the training program, the visa’s specified worker system has only 12. That means many wind up without opportunities for further employment in Japan.
A Vietnamese 5th-year trainee working at a Japanese sewing factory in Gifu talked with NTV. She said she may have no job after completing the program, as the garment industry isn’t included in the specified worker system.
Her employer, Takahiro Ikawa, CEO of. ISJ Enterprise tells reporters that trainees are critical to filling the holes created by Japan’s labor shortage.
“In that sense, [the trainees] are our saviors. I hope they can stay with us.”
Tomokazu Uchida, CEO of a construction company in Saitama, tells TBS News that his company has “no choice but to depend on trainees.”
The abuse trainees face but cannot escape under current restrictions
The program, which has shifted its focus from exporting skilled personnel to developing countries to importing foreign workforce to join Japan’s shrinking population, has its controversies.
In many cases, employers do not compensate trainees for working overtime while paying them illegally low wages and subjecting them to violence. (Such mistreatment is punishable by law as trainees are protected by labor laws (labor standards law and labor relations law).) Other employers put employees under severe and ridiculous restrictions to control them.
In one horrible case documented by Unseen Japan, a Vietnamese technical trainee was prosecuted for disposing of her stillborn twins. Le Thi Thuy Linh said she hid her pregnancy over fears her employer would send her back to Vietnam. Some employers in the program forbid employees from having any romantic relationships at all.
NTV interviewed Anh (pronounced Ieng), a female Vietnamese trainee last October and learned that she worked sixteen-hour shifts from 06:00 to 22:00.
Footage from Nichietsu Tomoiki Support Group, a safe haven for Japan-based Vietnamese trainees since 2014, shows an employer grabbing an unnamed male Vietnamese trainee by the collar, verbally threatening to deport him.
“Unless you work for me, you’re going back to Vietnam,” the employer yells.
Trainees are hesitant to demand rightful treatment from employers. More than 50% of them are in debt, having borrowed money to pay agencies and brokers to access Japan.
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