The Justice Ministry began looking at ways to reform the long-criticized foreign trainee program on Tuesday, including a recommendation to sharpen penalties for employers who abuse trainees.

A panel of experts appointed to review the program has spent the past eight months probing allegations that foreigners have been granted technical trainee status only to be exploited as cheap or indentured labor.

Some panel members advocate scrapping the program altogether, but most argue it should continue but that it requires fundamental reforms, immigration official Kuniaki Ishioka said on Monday.