Japan Cabinet OKs new foreign trainee program to promote longer stays

Japan
Photo: Kyodo

Japan's Cabinet approved Friday bills to reform the controversial foreign trainee program as the aging country seeks to encourage foreign workers to stay longer through a new system focused on developing skills and protecting rights, Kyodo reports. 

Likely to start in 2027, the new program would allow trainees to switch workplaces in the same industry on certain conditions and gain skills needed for transitioning to a system that opens a path to permanent residency.

"We aspire for foreign talent to work in Japan for a long time and advance their skills, and it is crucial to prevent human rights abuses," Justice Minister Ryuji Koizumi said at a press conference following a Cabinet meeting. "These bills play an important role in realizing an inclusive society."

The current Technical Intern Training Program, introduced in 1993 as a way of transferring skills to developing countries, has been criticized as a cover for importing cheap labor. Many trainees have run away due to abuses such as unpaid wages and harassment, as the program's stringent rules have effectively prohibited trainees from switching workplaces.

The new program clearly outlines its goal as "nurturing and securing foreign talent" and allows foreign workers to move to different workplaces in the same business area as long as they have worked in one place for more than a year and have a certain level of work skills and Japanese language proficiency.

However, amid worries that many workers may move to cities from the countryside for better pay, the program would allow the government to require workers to stay for up to two years in certain industries.

Supervising organizations, which act as brokers and monitor companies that accept foreign trainees, will be renamed "supervisory support organizations" and required to appoint external auditors under the new system.

The program aims to nurture trainees' skills in three years to a level where they can shift to the specified skilled worker system, introduced in 2019, that allows for stays of up to 5 years with the potential for obtaining permanent residency.

The planned legal revision also includes revoking permanent residency status from foreigners if they do not pay taxes or social insurance premiums.

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