The Immigration Services Agency (ISA) announced Tuesday it will strengthen measures aimed at curbing disappearances of foreign nationals working under the government-sponsored Technical Intern Training Program.

The agency will ban companies and organizations that participate in the program from taking in new trainees if they are found to have violated its conditions and their trainees have gone missing, immigration officials said.

The agency will also share information with overseas organizations and brokers to prevent rogue brokers from imposing conditions that violate trainees’ rights.

To protect trainees participating in the program and to stop them from fleeing, the agency is considering disclosing the names of companies whose trainees have gone missing and who thus have contributed to them illegally seeking employment elsewhere, the officials said.

Based on the set of new measures, the agency will compile specific provisions by March, they said.

At a regular news conference Tuesday, Justice Minister Masako Mori said that despite numerous preventive measures being put in place, the problem of foreign trainees fleeing their workplaces is rampant.

The ISA, which oversees the technical training program, said that 4,499 interns went missing in the first half of this year, up from 4,243 during the same period a year before. For the whole of 2018, a total of 9,052 foreign interns disappeared, nearly 2,000 more than in 2017, when the number stood at 7,089.

“We will do all we can to reduce the number of those who go missing by steadily enforcing these measures,” Mori said after approving the new measures proposed by immigration officials.

“Some efforts specified in the revised immigration law, which is also aimed at protecting the rights of foreign trainees that went into effect in November 2017, have been proving successful, but we haven’t succeeded yet in reducing the number of interns’ disappearances,” she said.

Mori took over the post of justice minister on Oct. 31 after her predecessor, Katsuyuki Kawai, resigned over alleged election law violations by his wife, who was elected to the Upper House from a Hiroshima district in July.

With the 2017 law revision, immigration authorities improved supervision of companies employing foreign trainees through on-site inspections to protect their working environment. The law also required authorization of training programs offered by organizations and companies planning to accept technical interns. The government also improved language support for foreign trainees.

But such measures turned out to be insufficient in curbing the number of trainees who disappeared, officials said.

The agency has concluded that abuse of trainees’ rights by failing to pay agreed salaries, demanding deposits or imposing other inappropriate conditions are the main reasons behind interns’ disappearances.

The agency believes that many companies that started employing foreign workers under the new blue-collar visa system, which was introduced in April, still rely on technical interns or employ their former trainees under the new visa program. The agency will conduct interviews with trainees from the same workplace as staff employed under the blue-collar visa system to verify their working conditions, officials said.

“If we discover any forms of mistreatment, which might push them to flee, we’ll be able to implement preventive measures at an early stage and thus solve the problem before it arises, before they disappear,” said Isao Negishi, a manager at the agency that supervises the program.

He added that the agency will also intensify efforts to crack down on trainees who have fled from their workplaces by working more closely with the labor ministry on revoking the escapees’ residence cards to curb their unauthorized employment.

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