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Photo courtesy of Pixabay (it has nothing to do with actual cases).

The Technical Intern Training Program in Japan is growing more and more popular, and one of the statistics say that there are more than 250K foreign trainees in Japan as of April 2020. However, the program is not as bright as it looks and many employers abuse it.

If you are thinking of coming to Japan as a foreign trainee, read this article and choose your employer very carefully.

Note that the cases I’m going to introduce in this post are based on other articles I found on the internet and I haven’t directly gathered the information from foreign interns. If you have any questions regarding the Technical Intern Training Program in Japan, contact your agency because we ( are only in a position of passing along information on the program and we are not consultants. Also, although some Japanese employers don’t protect the rights of foreign trainees, other employers do and we are not trying to say that all employers don’t keep the labor law.

Some Japanese employers look at foreign trainees as cheap labor forces

Before going into details, let me describe the fundamental problem Japan has.

Many (again, not all) employers in Japan that utilize this Technical Intern Training Program are busy pursuing their profits and don’t care much about the rights of their interns. As a result, they look at foreign trainees only as cheap labor forces and abuse their trainees by not paying salaries, taking away passports, forcing trainees to work for too long etc.

There are of course rightful employers, but a fairly good number of employers violate the labor law in a way or another. The labor exploitation doesn’t only happen to foreign trainees, but this issue is very common in the entire country and such unlawful employers are collectively called “black companies.” Even the Japanese suffer from those black companies.

Let’s see some actual cases reported by foreign trainees.

Problems reported by foreign trainees

Employer doesn’t pay salary

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (photo has nothing to do with actual cases).

Some employers participating in the Technical Intern Training Program provide housing to their foreign interns and don’t pay salary because they have already paid it as a form of housing.

One female trainee from Eastern Europe found a job at lodging facilities in Japan and started working there. The manager provided her with a room, but when she saw her salary statement a month later, the amount was zero because her salary was included in the housing. More surprisingly, the room the manager provided her with was so dirty and there was even a male room mate in the same room! You can read more details in this article in simple Japanese.

This is not a rare case because I have heard news about similar cases many many many times.

But even if your employer provides housing, they must pay salary IN CASH. If your employer doesn’t pay your salary for whatever reason, consult with the appropriate agency or the government. In the above case, she won her salary back after the Japanese Labor Standards Bureau had negotiated with the owner of the lodging.

Employer abuses trainees

Photo courtesy of Pixabay (photo has nothing to do with actual cases).

Some employers abuse their employees. There are primarily two types of abuses: One is excessive overtime, and another is giving trainees too simple tasks for their skills.

The first one is self-explanatory; a certain number of employers overwork their employers. The abused employees have to work for more than 12 hours or even 16 hours with zero overtime pay. Some really vicious employees block ways out so that their employees won’t escape.

The second one is that employers only give their trainees too simple tasks for their skills such as copying documents. Trainees have chosen their companies to learn technologies or improve their knowledge, but as some employers cannot properly communicate with their foreign employees because of language barriers or different cultural backgrounds, they only give simple tasks that don’t require much communication.

Employer takes away passports of trainees

Some employers take away passports of their foreign trainees to avoid them from running away.

When a Southeast Asian woman started working for a Japanese law firm, the firm took away her passport without telling her explicit reasons. As she trusted her company, she gave her passport to them assuming that they would use it to apply for a work visa for her. But even after her visa had been issued, her company didn’t give her passport back because “she might run away if they did” (see more details about her case in this article in simple Japanese).

No matter what your company says, your passport is yours and the Japanese government prohibits any employers or individuals from taking away passports of others.

Employer fires trainees for no decent reasons

Some employers fire trainees all of a sudden without giving any compensation. This issue is getting more and more serious during this COVID-19 pandemic, but employers in Japan are not allowed to fire their employees whenever they want.

Employers need to take necessary procedures before they can fire their employees. I’m not a legal expert and I’m not in a position to provide details, but if you feel that your employer is breaching the labor law, do contact your agency.

So… I hope you have now a better understanding on the reality of the Japanese trainee program.

There are so many other cases, but unfortunately I can’t cover them all. What I mentioned in this article is just the tip of the iceberg and so many foreign trainees suffer from their Japanese employers. 

US downgraded Japan for human trafficking

The US Government issues “Trafficking in Persons Report” on human trafficking every year. In their report for 2020, the US government downgraded Japan from Tier 1 (highest) to Tier 2 (2nd out of 4 tiers) due to the foreign trainee program (see Japan Times’ article for more details).

Tier 2 is assigned to countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.

The Japanese Government is considered to have been “making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the standards” and it used to be placed in Tier 1 for the past 2 years in a row, but it was downgraded because there were more victims of the trainee program than in the previous year. Yes, the trainee program is considered as “human trafficking.”

If you look at the map on Wikipedia, you will notice that some of other developed countries such as Germany and Italy were classified as Tier 2 in 2019 when Japan was still Tier 1, but it’s a shame that a once Tier-1 country has now been downgraded.

What do the Japanese say about this issue?

So, what do the Japanese sat about this issue? I quickly searched Twitter by the word “外国人技能実習生” (foreign technical interns) and found a lot of replies from the Japanese to the following tweet:

“‘155 bodies returning to Vietnam–this single fact is already madness.’ There are said to be more than 300K foreign technical interns in Japan. From 2013 to 2018, more than 30K ran away and 174 died. Jiho Yoshimizu who supports the Vietnamese people in Japan, pleaded the society to preserve human dignity of the trainees instead of regarding them as labor forces.”

And here are the first 10 replies that I could see (not deleted or hidden). To be fair, I picked up all replies:

“Hasn’t the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry taken any measures against Japan? Wouldn’t it be a diplomatic issue if foreign trainees that Japan called in died?”

“I can totally understand that they wanted to run away because of the work environment or salary!! I use Vietnamese people and I can actually understand this. However, they are connected through social media communities and run for places that offer higher salaries. For the most of the Vietnamese that came for job, salary is all that matters after all.”

“Only some are really willing to learn technologies”

“They should abolish the foreign technical intern program. 180 JPY ($1.7) of hourly salary is madness. The government that ignores this is madness.”

“I wish AI and robots will take over jobs soon…”

“How are we going to feed ourselves then”

“Many Japanese young people will be in the same situation in some future…”

“Komeito & Takenaka: ‘Wonderful world, isn’t it”

*Komeito is a Japanese political party and Takenaka is a Japanese politician.

“Just this time last year, there was news about a bunch of bodies found from a truck container in the UK.”

“The Japanese labor environment is way too cruel… Even the Japanese are stripped of their dignity and many of them commit suicide. I can easily imagine how cruel the situation would be for the foreign technical trainees that came all the way from foreign countries… Some of them are held in custody at the Immigration Service too… It feels bitter that all I can do is donate a small amount of money…”

I have seen many critical comments against foreign technical trainees in other places in the past, but it was a bit of a surprise that many Japanese here were rather supportive of the trainees. Again, these are only the first 10 tweets that I saw as a result of a quick search, so it’s still too early to say that most Japanese feel sympathy for foreign trainees.

Think twice before you apply for Japanese foreign trainee program

I hope this article gave you some idea about the reality of the foreign trainee program in Japan. I don’t want you to judge the program just by reading this article, but there are in fact many cases where employers abuse their trainees.

There are of course some good and lawful employers, but if you are planning to come to Japan as a technical intern, think twice before you do. Once you have found a company you want to work for, search the internet for other interns’ reviews or ask a support group or an agency that coordinates matching for interns and companies.

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