The Saga of Japan's Foreign Trainee System

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
David CHIAVACCI , Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
In the late 1980s, Japan was transformed from a non-immigration economy into an immigration economy. Still, Japan has officially maintained a very restrictive labor migration policy. According to immigration law, Japan accepts only highly qualified foreign workers for selected occupational fields. However, in contrast to the law, the large majority of the new immigrants is working in lower qualified jobs. This discrepancy between official labor migration policy and real immigration flows is partly due to the introduction of several so-called side-doors, through which foreign workers for lower qualified jobs are de facto accepted. One important side-door is the foreign trainee system. It is officially part of Japan's ODA (oversea development assistance) and has even been promoted as an instrument to diminish the migration pressure between Japan and developing countries in East Asia. In fact, the foreign trainee system is a disguised guest worker program that is essential for a number of Japanese industries. As such it has been criticized severely, and the U.S. have even denounced it as a form of human trafficking. Although foreign trainees are numerically a relative small group among the new immigrants over the past quarter-century, the foreign trainee system is arguably the most intensive discussed labor migration program in Japan's migration policy making. Hence, the foreign trainee system is an ideal case study for analyzing the development Japan's labor migration policy. Based on interviews and primary sources, this paper studies developments and turning-points in the foreign trainee system as a central element of Japan's foreign worker policy. It will elaborate how ideational factors, the institutional setting of policy making and the regional embeddedness of Japan in the East Asia migration region have interacted and influenced each other in the foreign trainee policy formation and its implementation.