Press Release: Stakeholders from Mekong Countries and Japan Discuss Ways to Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers from Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar in Japan

16 July 2019

Press Release: Stakeholders from Mekong Countries and Japan Discuss Ways to Protect the Rights of Migrant Workers from Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar in Japan

The Code of Conduct signed by recruitment agencies, the feasibility of a Zero Recruitment Fee model, the need to provide accurate information to prospective migrants, and the importance of networking were among the issues discussed at the multi-stakeholder Workshop organised by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) in collaboration with Kyoto University on 8 July 2019 in Tokyo.

The workshop was organsied in anticipation of increased labour migration from Mekong countries, as Japan seeks to plug gaps in its rapidly shrinking labour force. Under the current Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), Vietnam (72,637), Myanmar (3,692), and Cambodia (3,328),[1] make up a significant proportion of the migrant workers in Japan. However, these relatively modest numbers are expected to increase rapidly, following the Japanse government’s announcement that it intends to welcome an additional 345,000 migrant workers within five years. To facilitate this policy change, Japan’s strict immigration laws have been amended and a new “Specified Skilled Worker” visa category created. Japan has also signed bilateral Memoranda of Cooperation (MoC) with Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar to facilitate the implementation of the new scheme.[2]

Given these developments, MMN gathered more than 35 stakeholders to address potential challenges and opportunities from the perspective of both Japan and countries of origin. Participants included representatives from the Embassy of Vietnam in Japan, the Vietnam Association of Manpower Supply (VAMAS), the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), inter-governmental organisations, recruitment agencies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Japan, as well as academic experts on labour migration.

In discussing the TITP, participants agreed that migrants employed under the scheme are in effect workers not “trainees”, and thus should be treated as such with full respect to their labor rights. Some participants also discussed instances of migrant workers “running away” from their employer under the TITP. In response, Mr Torii Ippei from the Solidarity Network with Migrants in Japan (SMJ) suggested that the term “runaways” was not appropriate, as it implies wrongdoing on the part of migrants. He said “We must be clear – the fundamental issue here lies with the system that denies migrant workers freedom to choose and change employers. I don’t think ‘running away’ is a bad thing. All Japanese citizens have the right to change jobs… When migrants ‘run away’, they are exercising the same right that all Japanese citizens enjoy.”

CSOs in Japan also highlighted a number of issues faced by migrant workers, including cases where migrant workers signed employment contracts in their own languages that contained clauses that did not appear in the Japanese original. In one example, a migrant worker signed a contract in her own language that included a clause requiring her to return home if she became pregnant, which is a clear violation of Japan’s labour law. Mr Kazuomi Aoyagi from the Alliance of Associations for Diversity and Inclusion Acceleration in Japan, remarked, “migrant workers are human beings. They should not be denied the right to love, reproduce and start a family.”

With regards to recruitment procedures in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam, Professor Wako Asato from Kyoto University expressed concerns that even though Japan signed similar MoCs with the three countries to implement the TITP, recruitment practices differ greatly among the three countries. One such difference relates to recruitment fees that may be collected from workers. Recruitment agencies cannot charge more than USD 2,800 in Myanmar and USD 3,600 in Vietnam. In Cambodia, there are no legal caps. Higher recruitment fees impose a heavier financial burden on migrant workers and can be one reason why migrant workers are under pressure to leave their jobs in search of better paying employment opportunities. Professor Asato believed that under the new “Specified Skilled Workers” visa scheme, recruitment practices across different countries of origin will likely differ, because key components of the new scheme, such as the ability for employers in Japan to directly hire migrant workers, may be difficult to implement in some countries of origin. Moreover, the Japanese government has signaled its intention to avoid getting involved in the details of how the scheme will be implemented in countries of origin.

There was a general consensus at the workshop that countries of origin must avoid a “race to the bottom” scenario regarding the terms and benefits they afford workers migrating from their respective countries to Japan. Given the example of the Philippines, where workers bound for Japan are not charged recruitment fees and the cost falls on employers regulated by Memorandum of Circular, recruitment agency associations in Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam discussed the possibility of looking into the Zero Recruitment Fee model, although they felt that it was not feasible to implement at this point. The recruitment agency associations have however developed measures to encourage and promote good recruitment practices, including an industry code of conduct. In Vietnam, VAMAS has developed a ranking system to rate recruitment agencies’ level of compliance. The results of the ranking can improve overall standards and provide prospective migrants with a useful tool to select between recruitment agencies.

To address challenges arising from labour migration from Mekong countries to Japan, many participants highlighted the need for enhanced collaboration among different stakeholders in countries of origin and destination.  Participants expressed an interest in deepening the dialogue to ensure migrant workers are well protected throughout the migration cycle.



Founded in 2003, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations and research institutes working towards the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and their families in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. MMN’s areas of joint action include collaborative research, advocacy, capacity building and networking. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination, have unique expertise in the field, and are in close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. For more information on MMN, please visit MMN’s webpage at:




For more information about the workshop, please contact:



[1] Figures as of 2018. Source: Immigration Services Agency.

[2] MoC’s on the Basic Framework for Information Partnership for Proper Operation of the System pertaining to Foreign Human Resources with the Status of Residence of “Specified Skilled Worker”, were signed with Cambodia, Myanmar and Vietnam on 25 March 2019, 28 March 2019, and 1 July 2019 respectively.