A mere 45 foreign trainees affected by a powerful earthquake in central Japan have been granted permission to work outside their designated workplaces about a month after exceptional measures started, immigration authorities revealed Sunday.

A support group for foreign technical interns pointed out that the measures of the Immigration Services Agency have not been widely known among the trainees yet, and there are likely more foreigners in need who could take advantage of the exceptions, which allow them to work for other employers for three months.

According to a support group in Ishikawa Prefecture, many trainees told the organization that they were not aware of the extraordinary measures until being informed by the organization. Several trainees told Kyodo News that they had never heard of such measures.

In the prefecture, around 670 foreign technical interns reside in six municipalities severely impacted by the disaster. Many businesses in the area have suspended operations due to the damage inflicted by the magnitude-7.6 quake, which struck the Noto Peninsula and its vicinity along the Sea of Japan coast on New Year's Day.

Indonesian trainees study Japanese at a dormitory in the town of Noto, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Feb. 14, 2024. (Kyodo)

Usually, international students in the country apply for the measures to work part-time temporarily, but considering the situation in the disaster-hit area, the same measures have been applied to technical interns for the first time as a disaster-response exception upon the request of local businesses.

The immigration agency said that it has received a certain number of applications for the measures, providing trainees with an available option.

An official of a supervising organization, which acts as a broker and monitors companies that accept foreign trainees, said, "It is difficult to find employers that can accept them immediately," highlighting the need for collaboration between government ministries and agencies to address the issue.

Subject to the latest exceptional measures are those in 47 cities, towns and villages in Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui prefectures, where about 15,000 trainees were residing as of June last year.

Many of the 45 trainees who have been granted permission to work outside their designated employment live in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures.

The Japanese government intends to replace its controversial trainee program for foreigners, established in 1993 to transfer skills to developing countries, with a new program. It aims to enhance rights protections, increase flexibility for changing jobs, and implement stricter oversight.

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