A total of 69 foreigners working as part of the technical intern program died between 2015 and 2017, according to a Justice Ministry tally made available by an opposition lawmaker on Thursday.
The figure comprises those who died due to accidents, illness or suicide, according to Yoshifu Arita of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Arita read out the figure to a parliamentary committee that was deliberating a bill to accept more foreign workers into Japan. Justice Ministry officials said they had no knowledge of the matter and would investigate.
Japan introduced the training program for foreigners in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries. But the scheme, which allows interns to stay in the nation for up to five years, has been criticized as a cover for companies to import cheap labor.
With Japan moving to more broadly accept foreign laborers to address a serious labor shortage amid the country’s graying population and falling birthrate, opposition parties have grilled the government over issues in its management of the technical intern system.
A number of interns have also left their positions due to low wages or poor working conditions.
“There should be no new system without a comprehensive review of the technical intern program,” Arita said.
Justice Minister Takashi Yamashita said the ministry has no plan to disclose information on individual cases due to privacy concerns.
According to government data, about 258,000 foreign interns were working in Japan as of October last year, accounting for about 20 percent of the total number of foreigners working in Japan.