A Justice Ministry expert panel on Friday made a preliminary proposal to replace the much-criticized foreign technical intern program with a new system aimed at treating them as crucial human resources rather than an expendable labor force.

The program, initially launched to provide training for people from developing countries, has been criticized as a way of securing cheap labor in areas suffering from staff shortages. With its latest recommendations, the panel is aiming for the new system to reflect Japan's economic reality.

The panel plans to release a final report in the fall.