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Over half of technical trainees expected to shift to new resident status: gov't

Minister of Justice Takashi Yamashita testifies during debate in the House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee regarding expanding acceptance of foreign laborers, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Nov. 21, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- On the first day of Diet deliberations on a bill to revise the immigration control laws to create new residency statuses and accept more foreign workers, Director-General of the Immigration Bureau of Japan Masaki Wada explained that over 50 percent of the workers to be accepted during the first fiscal year will be from the government-run technical intern trainee program.

The House of Representatives' Judicial Affairs Committee began discussions on Nov. 21 on the estimated maximum of 47,550 foreign laborers across 14 industries to be accepted under revisions to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. During the inaugural year, some 55 to 59 percent of those to receive the new residency status are set to be technical trainees, and over five years of the new system, the final number is expected to be somewhere around 45 percent, or roughly 120,000 to 150,000 former trainees, according to the immigration bureau chief.

The opposition parties requested ample time to debate the new system, with Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) lawmaker Shiori Yamao emphasizing, "The new (immigration) system will not get off the ground without technical intern trainees, so existing issues should be solved through discussion."

The government is planning for two types of new residency statuses. "Category 1" status, which has a maximum length of five years, requires a certain level of knowledge and experience. "Category 2" calls for a fully developed technical skill and the period of stay is eligible to be renewed. Immigration chief Wada explained, "Technical trainees who have finished their training and choose to remain in Japan on a category 1 visa must return to their home country or plan some other method of international technical transfer when changing their status to category 2."

Along with apologizing for the data tallying errors in a Ministry of Justice survey of technical trainees, Minister of Justice Takashi Yamashita also disclosed that time spent working under the category 2 visa will be able to be included in the conditions for permanent residency status. Conditions to receive permanent resident status include good behavior, prospects of a stable lifestyle and having spent over 10 years in Japan with five of those years having been on a working visa, and stays under category 2 visas can be applied toward permanent residency under the working visa condition. However, as technical trainees and laborers under category 1 are "not expected to stay for a long period of time," Yamashita expressed that work under those statuses would not count toward permanent residency in Japan.

However, what opposition lawmakers continued to question was the practical difference between the new resident status system and the already existing technical trainee program.

The government is clear about the two being completely separate systems, however, there are industries that are expected to see close to 100 percent of laborers move from trainees to the new work visas. "The bill to revise the immigration control law is tied to the technical intern trainee program," CDP legislator Seiji Osaka charged, among others. "Aren't the two systems inseparable?"

The government is calling the new system "completely different" from the technical trainee program. The only connection being that "among those accepted on category 1 visas, there will be technical trainees who finished their program," Wada clarified. Still, even after five years, the cumulative ratio of former trainees is still envisioned to be close to half, at around 45 percent.

No trainees will go to industries under the new statuses that are not covered by or just recently began to be covered by the trainee program, such as the restaurant and bar industry and nursing care field, However, nearly 100 percent of new residency status holders in some industries including machine part manufacturing are expected to be trainees, as are more than 90 percent of those for the construction business. Still, to what degree these former trainees will actually move to category 1 is still unclear.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees three job categories that are expected to see complete trainee transfer, estimates that around 70 to 80 percent of interns in each of the three categories will move to category 1 status. Vice Minister Yoshihiro Seki based the prediction made in Diet testimony on a labor ministry survey that found the same percentage of technical trainees did the same or similar work after returning to their home countries in the last three years.

However, Takeshi Shina, a member of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, cast doubt on the figure. "That means there is a need for their skills in their home countries," he said. "Will 70 to 80 percent really choose to remain in Japan under category 1 status (under those conditions)?"

(Japanese original by Jun Aoki, Political News Department, and Takeshi Wada, City News Department)

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