In Vietnamese, they're referred to as “bodoi.” The word means soldier, but in the context of technical trainee interns who bolted from their jobs, it implies their everyday struggle to evade law enforcement and immigration officers and their quest to find better-paying work.

The word crops up frequently on social networking sites scanned by Vietnamese living in Japan as fugitives.

The situation might have gone unnoticed were it not for the arrests of three men who operated a personnel dispatching business that found jobs for Vietnamese illegals.

The Feb. 19 arrests exposed a carefully built social network for runaway Vietnamese technical interns trying to survive in Japan.

Osaka prefectural police arrested the trio on suspicion of violating the Immigration Control Law by recruiting foreign nationals to work in Japan illegally.

Police believe the men trawled social networking and other sites to scout Vietnamese technical trainees on the run and placed them in companies, which paid the men brokerage fees.

The suspects were identified as Atsushi Ota, 42, president of Connect, a personnel dispatching company based in Nagoya’s Moriyama Ward; Hiroaki Matsumura, 47, president of MTS Co., a personnel dispatching company based in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture; and Satoru Matsumura, 45, an executive of MTS.

According to investigative sources, the three conspired to dispatch five Vietnamese men to a chemical drug company in Osaka Prefecture and its factory in Shiga Prefecture during the period from September 2018 to November 2019.

The Vietnamese in question had either overstayed their visas or were not authorized to work except for an employer that accepted them as trainees under the technical intern system.

It emerged that Ota was on the lookout for Vietnamese who bolted from firms that had hired them to work as technical interns and referred them to MTS, which then found jobs for them, sources said.

Police arrested the five Vietnamese for overstaying their visas or engaging in activity other than that permitted under the status of residence previously granted.

Four of them were indicted.

According to trial and other records, the five came to Japan as technical interns and later fled their workplaces.

Numerous instances have arisen of employers abusing interns with low or unpaid wages or forcing them to work excessive hours. Critics of the system regard it as a ploy to meet a chronic labor shortage.

The chemical drug company paid MTS an hourly wage of 1,750 yen ($16) for each individual. But the Vietnamese only received about 1,100 yen for every hour they worked.


There were about 328,000 foreign technical trainees in Japan as of the end of 2018, according to the Justice Ministry.

Vietnamese comprised the majority at about 160,000, almost half of the entire technical trainee intake.

That year, 9,052 foreign technical trainees disappeared from their workplaces. The figure was about six times higher than the 1,534 in 2011.

Among the 9,052 runaways, Vietnamese accounted for a staggering 64 percent.

There are many groups on Facebook that use the term “bodoi” mixed with a geographical name. Some groups boast a membership exceeding 10,000.

The groups serve as a forum for runaways to exchange employment information.

One notice reads: “Bread factory. Starting from 1,050 yen per hour. Residence card not needed.”

Another states: “Runaways wanted. Email for more detail.”

The hourly rates posted on these sites tend to be higher than the wages offered by employers of technical interns.

The employment opportunities vary. A runaway might land a job at a supermarket or for roofing work.

“Lovely amount of money,” promised one post, supposedly from a sex-related business.

“Some of the posts appear to be written by brokers, with Vietnamese acting as intermediaries, at the behest of Japanese firms,” said Nguyen Thi Thanh Xuan, who heads HTC, a company based in Kashiwara, Osaka Prefecture, that helps Vietnamese find work.

Several of Vietnamese who were arrested are known to have obtained employment information on Facebook, investigative sources said.

Many runaway Vietnamese use Facebook to find housing information and exchange messages, offering, for example, an apartment room to rent.

Some posts offer to forge residence cards and driver’s licenses. Others provide information about unlicensed taxi services, since runaway Vietnamese tend to avoid using public transportation for fear they may be stopped by police at train stations for a random check.

Nguyen said the wealth of information posted by Facebook groups had prompted many technical trainees to disappear rather than toil long hours at low paid work.

“It is easier to find better-paying work on social networking sites than what company technical intern programs offer. That's why they become bodoi,” Nguyen said.

Some, however, get very stressed trying to keep one step ahead of the law in a foreign land.

“I will turn myself in next week,” said one post. “Anybody want to come with me?”


Why have so many foreign technical trainees fled from their employers?

The Justice Ministry said in a 2019 survey that of 5,000 or so technical intern runaways who were apprehended between January 2017 and September 2018, 937 were found to have been unjustly treated by their employers.

Some of the firms conducted illegal business practices.

Fifty-eight runaways said they fled because they were not paid the minimum wage, while 69 were not paid their contracted wage.

The survey found that 195 of them were not paid for overtime work and 92 were slapped with excessive payroll deductions.

Many Vietnamese arrive in Japan burdened by debt stemming from having paid off brokers.

Yoshihisa Saito, a professor of labor law in Asia at Kobe University, said some of the organizations that manage foreign technical interns and monitor their employers are not functioning adequately.

(This article was written by Yu Fujinami and Moeno Kunikata.)