Chinese exodus hurts industries dependent on foreign trainees, interns

According to the Japan Textile Federation, about 40,000 foreign interns, 99 percent of whom were from China, worked at textile-related companies before the March 11 quake. Many returned to China after the disasters, creating big difficulties for the companies.

At a sewing plant in Tokyo, four interns returned to China in late April, leaving the plant with none. There were five before the quake.

While the plant continues to operate with its 21 Japanese workers, it has seen a 30-percent decrease in finished women’s clothing.

Under such circumstances, some companies are moving away from their dependence on foreign interns.

For example, a sewing company in the Tohoku region that serves as a subcontractor for a major apparel company had 29 Chinese women working as interns before the quake.

After the disaster, all 29 eventually returned to China, although only 10 had completed their contract periods.

The company president tried to convince the 19 who still had time remaining on their contract periods that they were safe from the radiation of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But some refused to work.

In late March, they all returned to their homeland. The president now fears clients will lose trust in the company if it has to cancel orders. Sales in the month after the quake have decreased by about 10 million yen ($122,000).

The president is now thinking about using only Japanese workers.

“If the expenses for (going to China to) recruit and train are added to their wages, Chinese interns now cost more than Japanese workers,” the president said. “I intend to do away with accepting interns over the next three to five years.”

A Chinese who has helped bring interns to Japan said parents were hesitant about sending their only child to a Japan that is no longer considered a safe neighbor.

While the number of interns and students accepted in the past was an attempt to make up for the lack of labor and Japanese students due to the declining birth rate and aging population, it now appears the trend to avoid Japan by foreigners could be a long-term one.

That will hurt other industries, such as restaurants and convenience stores that depend on Chinese workers.

For example, the ramen chain Hidakaya had about 1,400 part-time workers at its 250 or so branches throughout Japan. About 90 percent of those workers were Chinese.

About 700 of them have returned to China, forcing about 50 Hidakaya branches to shorten business hours by an average four hours.

According to officials of Cerebrix Corp., which dispatches part-time workers to convenience stores, about 3,000 Chinese worked at about 1,000 stores in six Tokyo wards before the quake. Almost all have returned to China after the disasters, and most of those stores had to scramble through late March to find replacement workers.

According to the Justice Ministry, about 470,000 foreigners, including about 170,000 Chinese, left Japan between March 12 and April 1.