• Kyodo

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Foreign trainees will be allowed to switch jobs and stay in Japan even after their technical internship programs have ended, as some of them are unable to return home amid the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Tuesday.

The new measures will take effect in early September, it said.

The Immigration Services Agency said around 24,200 foreign trainees were stranded in Japan as of Friday, and the number of such interns is expected to grow, either due to travel restrictions in place globally due to the pandemic or because the workers are unable to afford the airfare home.

The government-sponsored program, established in 1993, is intended to promote international cooperation by imparting skills and knowledge in Japanese industries to developing countries.

Trainees are only allowed to work for up to five years in designated fields under the current regulations, and they must leave the country after their internship programs have ended.

But as part of efforts to support the foreign trainees affected by the pandemic, the government decided in April to allow those who are stranded here to work in the same field for an additional year by granting them a visa for “designated activities.”

Now, they will be able to find jobs in other industries, as it is difficult for them to land new jobs in the same sectors amid deteriorating economic conditions in Japan, according to the agency.

From Sept. 1, the Foreign Residents Support Center in Tokyo will offer a free hotline service for those who have problems because of the virus pandemic, the agency said.

The telephone consultation service will be available in 14 languages, including English, Vietnamese and Chinese, and offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays at 0120-762-029. The center opened last month to give foreign nationals in Japan advice on employment, visas, laws and humanitarian issues.

Most of the foreign trainees under the technical internship program are from other Asian nations.

At the end of last year, Vietnamese accounted for more than half of the total at 218,727, followed by Chinese at 82,370, Filipinos at 35,874 and Indonesians at 35,404, according to the Justice Ministry.

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