Photo/Illutration Sayama city government officials in Saitama Prefecture prepare application forms for cash relief handouts to residents. Eighty percent of municipalities in Japan have started sending out the forms. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The internal affairs ministry decided on May 21 to provide cash relief handouts to foreign technical intern trainees who are stranded in Japan because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision came after questions were raised by the public over the strict rules on eligibility for the program.

The government is providing 100,000 yen ($930) in cash to every resident in the country to mitigate the economic impact of the outbreak.

However, only those registered at municipal offices as of April 27 were eligible for the handouts, shutting out many residents, including foreigners who are staying in Japan for three months or shorter periods.

To become registered, foreign residents need to have a visa with periods of more than three months.

“I can’t return to my country, and I don’t have a job, either,” said a 27-year-old Vietnamese man who has worked as a technical intern trainee at an auto parts maker in Okayama Prefecture for three years.

Since completing his technical intern training, he has been staying in Japan on a short-term visa that expires after 90 days. His return flight to Vietnam was suspended just before he was due to leave Japan in mid-April.

His home in Osaka city is about the size of eight tatami mats, which he shares with four others who are also unable to return to their countries.

“I’m worried about how long I can live like this,” he said.

Many countries are still imposing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the Justice Ministry, more than 3,000 foreign technical intern trainees are stuck in Japan, but the number represents only what the ministry has been able to confirm so far.

To deal with the situation, the Justice Ministry’s Immigration Services Agency started taking special measures to extend the duration of visas to six months of technical intern trainees who cannot return to their home countries.

The internal affairs ministry instructed municipalities around the country to provide the 100,000-yen handouts to technical intern trainees after their visas are extended.

However, the procedure for the new measures could take time, and how to protect the livelihoods of technical intern trainees who cannot earn a living remains a challenge.