A Tokyo think tank says the nation should replace its discredited national foreigners' trainee program with a system that invites overseas interns to settle in Japan, which would help solve an immediate labor shortage and an approaching demographic crisis.

The Japan Center for International Exchange, or JCIE, unveiled the proposal on Wednesday, calling it a comprehensive replacement for the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program, which has been criticized as a source of rights violations.

The think tank advocates granting foreign interns a renewable three-year visa and, after six years, giving them access to long-term or permanent residency.

In what is perhaps its most radical recommendation, the group also proposes that Japan establish a new ministry to oversee the program.

It says the government should strike bilateral agreements with other nations and coordinate directly with their ministries to guard against unscrupulous private brokers trying to profit from and manipulate the supply of labor.

The proposal says foreign interns should be required to learn basic Japanese language skills and contribute to Japan's social security system by paying taxes. To facilitate their integration into Japanese society, it urges the government to strengthen legislation against discrimination.

The framework is similar to an employment program for foreigners in South Korea, the think tank said, adding that it based the draft in part on South Korea's model.

"It's finally time Japan began seriously considering accepting foreigners on a long-term basis to address the problem of its ever-accelerating population crisis," said Toshihiro Menju, the think tank's managing director.

JCIE is a Tokyo- and New York-based foundation established in 1970 with the aim of boosting Japan's role in the international community by drafting policy proposals and initiating exchange programs.

The group says it may approach politicians with the proposal directly.