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News Navigator: What is the current situation for foreign technical interns in Japan?

This photo shows leaflets prepared in various languages by the Immigration Services Agency of Japan for foreign workers, including technical interns, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Mainichi)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about circumstances of foreign technical intern trainees in Japan.

    Question: What are the young foreigners working in Japan while learning technology called?

    Answer: These people are technical intern trainees. The program started in 1993 with the aim of increasing the number of people with skills in developing countries. The most common country of origin is Vietnam followed by China and the Philippines. They are working in fields such as construction, car parts manufacturing, food processing and agriculture. Despite the fact that the purpose of the program is to make international contributions, it has been pointed out that these workers are forced to engage in unskilled labor at low wages. According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, their average monthly income is 150,000 yen (about $1,370).

    Q: Aren't there slight differences between the image that people get from the name "trainees" and the reality?

    A: Trainees are positioned as workers under the Labor Standards Act, as they must be paid at least the minimum wage. There are also restrictions, such as the fact that trainees cannot change their place of work at their own convenience. It is not uncommon for trainees to come to Japan with debts of nearly one million yen (roughly $17,000), and it has been pointed out that it is difficult for them to quit even if they are subjected to power harassment or sexual harassment by their employers.

    Q: Have they also been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

    A: There have been a number of layoffs, and a group of companies that accept foreign workers, called supervising organizations, and the Organization for Technical Intern Training, established by the national government, are helping people change occupations. Since the number of jobs has decreased due to the spread of coronavirus infections, it has become difficult for some trainees to change occupations in the same industry as before they were laid off, so in April last year, the government established a special provision that allows trainees to change jobs to a different industry.

    Q: How do the problems faced by trainees affect our lives?

    A: There is a serious shortage of labor in industries where there are many trainees, and companies are worried that if the travel restrictions continue, they may not be able to secure workers. As of June last year, there were 400,000 foreign trainees in Japan. We need to make sure that they are treated well so that they can continue to come and work here.

    (Japanese original by Go Kumagai, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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