Japan announces revamp of foreign trainee programme; fosters inclusivity

The Japanese government plans to overhaul its foreign trainee programme to attract skilled workers from abroad and address exploitation issues, aiming to foster inclusivity and address labor shortages.

During a recent Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida reiterated the government’s commitment to fostering inclusivity in Japanese society and attracting foreign workers to the country. The Japanese government has announced plans to overhaul its current foreign trainee programme, which has faced criticism for serving as a vehicle for importing inexpensive labour.

Under the proposed new system, individuals arriving on a three-year trainee visa will have the opportunity to transition to a skilled worker category, allowing them to remain in Japan for up to five years and potentially obtain permanent residency status. This initiative comes as Japan grapples with an aging and shrinking workforce, with industries such as services, manufacturing, and construction experiencing acute shortages of labour.

The current Technical Intern Training Program, introduced in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries through youth training, has been marred by allegations of exploitation and unequal treatment. As of June last year, approximately 360,000 trainees were enrolled in the programme, with a significant proportion originating from Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

The decision to revamp the programme follows the recommendations of a government panel, which highlighted widespread abuses and violations of labour rights within the current system. The proposed changes aim to address these shortcomings and ensure better protection for trainees.

However, the new programme will still impose restrictions on the types of jobs available to foreign trainees, reflecting the conservative government’s reluctance to embrace a more liberal immigration policy. Despite efforts to attract foreign workers, Japan continues to lag behind other Asian countries, such as South Korea, in terms of diversity, inclusivity, and wage competitiveness.

Prime Minister Kishida emphasised the government’s ambition to create a welcoming environment for foreign workers and transform Japan into a preferred destination for international talent. As part of the reforms, trainees will be permitted to switch jobs after one to two years, within the same job category, addressing concerns about workplace exploitation.

Additionally, applicants for the revamped trainee system will be required to demonstrate proficiency in the Japanese language, underscoring the importance of linguistic competency in facilitating integration into Japanese society.

Overall, the proposed reforms represent a significant step towards addressing longstanding issues within Japan’s foreign trainee programme and aligning the country’s immigration policies with its broader goals of promoting inclusivity and attracting skilled workers from abroad.