Japan’s Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) brings young people from other parts of Asia to Japan to fill menial jobs on a temporary basis. Proponents argue that TITP allows Japan to both mitigate labor shortages and circumvent the challenges of integrating low-paid foreigners as long-term members of Japanese society; critics highlight how the program puts interns at risk for trafficking and exploitation. But despite their disagreements about TITP’s merits or demerits, both groups depict the program as self-contained and separate from the broader employment landscape.
In fact, hundreds of thousands of non-TITP foreign workers and millions of Japanese work in firms that use TITP. I investigate whether, in light of its high degree of integration with the rest of the labor market, TITP has negative spillover effects for other types of foreign workers. Using unique employer-employee data from nearly 4,000 firms, I find that although TITP firms appear to be no worse for Japanese workers than other firms, non-TITP foreign workers face substantial wage penalties when they work in TITP firms. The results imply that by enabling dehumanizing and derogatory treatment of interns themselves, TITP may engender broader denigrating attitudes towards foreigners—attitudes which in turn have consequential and negative effects on opportunities and outcomes for foreign workers regardless of their individual visa or employment status.
Hilary J. Holbrow is Assistant Professor of Japanese Politics and Society in the Hamilton Lugar School for Global and International Studies at Indiana University Bloomington . A sociologist by training, her scholarship examines social and economic inequality, work and organizations, immigration, and the intersections of gender, race, and ethnicity. She is an International Research Fellow at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo, an Associate in Research at Harvard’s Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, and a member of the US-Japan Network for the Future.
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