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In an effort to curb misuse of the government-sponsored industrial training and internship program for foreign workers, Justice Minister Jinen Nagase proposed Tuesday allowing foreigners at authorized organizations to work for up to three years.

Nagase told a regular news conference that he will soon instruct ministry officials to launch studies on the specifics of his plan.

The program was launched in 1993 to help foreign workers acquire industrial skills in Japan that could be used in their home countries.

Under the program, a foreign participant undergoes a one-year training course and then is allowed to work as a technical intern for two years.

But the program has come under fire for helping Japanese employers, notably small and midsize firms, to hire foreign workers as low-cost manual labor.

“The current program does not necessarily serve its purpose of an international transfer of industrial skills but causes confusion,” Nagase said. “It must be revised to secure the necessary workforce without adversely affecting Japan’s labor market.”

Nagase’s plan would require authorized bodies to recruit foreign workers and introduce them to domestic firms, allowing them to work for up to three years without the right to renew their program.

The plan proposes no restrictions on the categories of industry or types of jobs for those foreign workers.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has already drafted its own plan calling for abolishing the one-year training course and instead extending the two-year internship period to three years.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has argued for maintaining the current training and internship program while calling for tightening controls or guidance on employers.

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