Free interns not ‘working’ under law

Free interns not ‘working’ under law

More than 90 per cent of about 600 South Korean university students who were confirmed by The Yomiuri Shimbun to have worked at hotels and other accommodation facilities in Japan in the past 10 years as interns entered the country without visas, it has been learned.

The immigration authorities said that if the students' activities were recognised as labour it would be considered illegal employment and thus a violation of the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law.

However, if on-the-spot inspections find that students received no wages, it cannot be considered illegal employment because the law defines illegal work as "activities for which [the person] receives reward" without being legally entitled to employment.

This creates a paradoxical situation in which it is difficult for immigration authorities to take legal action when a student without a work visa works at a hotel and is not paid, although authorities can take legal action if a student without a work visa works at a hotel and is paid.

In late August, the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau carried out on-site inspections at two hotels in Nagano Prefecture that have accepted South Korean university students as interns.

According to sources close to the bureau, the hotels began accepting South Korean university students about three years ago. This year, eight students came to the hotels from early July to late August. They reportedly engaged in preparing breakfast and supper, cleaning and other work for seven to 15 hours a day, five days a week. As they entered Japan without a visa, the bureau suspected they were illegal workers.

Though about ¥50,000 was paid per student as an "operation management fee" to a broker who introduced the students to the hotels, the bureau could not confirm that the hotels paid the students. Therefore, the bureau gave up on taking legal action under the immigration control law.

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