Vietnamese lives in Japan are devastated by illegal gambling debts.

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    Nov 10, 2023

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Vietnamese workers in Japan are increasingly turning to online gambling and resorting to loan sharks due to mounting debts.


Huy, a 24-year-old individual, embarked on a journey to Japan approximately three years ago with the purpose of working as a mechanic. This opportunity was made possible through his association with ESTRALA JSC, a Hanoi-based company focused on labor export and services, specifically catering to individuals seeking overseas employment opportunities.

The company has recently received reports from its Vietnamese colleagues in Japan expressing concern regarding his financial situation. They have reported that he frequently borrows money from them and consistently fails to pay back on time.

ESTRALA administrator Nguyen Thi Thuy Dung reached out to Huy in an attempt to address the issue at hand. However, Huy firmly maintained that there was no problem.

On the other hand, Huy's family mentioned that he used to consistently send money back home; nevertheless, they noticed a halt in his financial support for the past six months.

According to his family, Huy informed them that he was patiently waiting for the dong to yen exchange rate to improve.

Dung pointed out that if that were truly the situation, he wouldn't have had any motive to approach numerous colleagues for borrowing money.

Huy's employer at a Japanese factory has provided feedback to ESTRALA, noting that Huy's productivity has recently declined and he has been struggling to maintain full concentration while at work.

After a series of subsequent discussions, Huy eventually confessed to ESTRALA about borrowing almost one million yen (equivalent to US$6,600) from loan sharks with the intention of depositing it into his online game account.

He receives a monthly salary of 200,000 yen while employed in Japan.

Despite this, he mentioned that the majority of his salary has been utilized to settle debts owed to dishonest lenders, resulting in a meager monthly income.

Huy expressed his desire to find means of settling his debt, but the exorbitant interest rates he is facing, amounting to at least 5% per day, make it unfeasible for him to fully repay his loans.

Upon gaining insight into Huy's predicament, the board of directors at ESTRALA initiated collaboration with the Japanese factory to address the issue. ESTRALA put forth a request that Huy's employer facilitate opportunities for him to undertake additional overtime shifts, thereby enabling him to generate more income to settle his debts.

There are other cases similar to Huy's situation.

According to Nguyen The Dai, Deputy General Director of ESTRALA, there has been a notable surge in the number of Vietnamese workers resorting to borrowing funds for online gambling activities.

According to his statement, individuals engaged in these games often find it difficult to extricate themselves once they experience significant losses that far surpass their winnings. Consequently, they swiftly find themselves burdened with substantial debts.

Upon squandering their entire earnings on online gambling, they resort to borrowing funds from individuals within their social circles, eventually falling victim to predatory loan sharks.

According to Dai, there have been instances where laborers have faced defaults and subsequent threats from these organized groups. As a result, they have chosen to abandon their work and flee back to Vietnam in order to seek refuge and conceal themselves.

According to him, criminal gangs in Vietnam have resorted to blackmailing the families of laborers by exploiting photos that show the workers being menaced with knives.

The origins of the gangs, whether they are led by Vietnamese, Japanese, or individuals from different nationalities, remain uncertain.

This photograph captures a Vietnamese employee working diligently at a factory located in Japan. The individual's name is Uy Van.

According to official government data, Japan has emerged as the preferred choice for Vietnamese guest workers in recent years. In fact, out of the total 111,500 Vietnamese laborers sent abroad during the first nine months of this year, an impressive 55,700 were placed in Japan.

Phan Viet Anh, an esteemed writer and administrator of a prominent online community comprising 21,000 Vietnamese workers residing in Japan, commonly known as "interns," has substantiated the alarming increase in the number of Vietnamese migrant laborers facing financial difficulties overseas due to their detrimental gambling addiction.

According to Anh, a significant factor contributing to this situation is the ongoing pandemic, which has compelled numerous laborers to remain confined to their homes.

During the Covid-19 era, there has been an unprecedented surge in the number of online gambling sites. An increasing number of individuals, like Anh, who found themselves confined at home due to work restrictions, saw this as an opportunity to engage in online gambling to pass their time and potentially generate supplementary income.

According to him, a significant number of families had to resort to selling their assets and properties to settle debts owed to loan sharks in Japan, all in an effort to ensure the safe return of their children who had gone to work there.

According to him, the latest case within his online community involved a laborer who reached out for assistance. This individual had found themselves in a precarious situation after using their identification papers and official documents as collateral to borrow 1.2 million yen ($8,200) from loan sharks. Unfortunately, they were unable to repay the debt before their work contract expired, forcing them to return to Vietnam. This presented a potential threat to their family's well-being.

According to Anh, male laborers are obligated to surrender their identification papers, bank cards, workplace address in Japan, and contact details for their families back in Vietnam. On the other hand, concerning female laborers, the distressing reality is that they are compelled to provide a sex tape of themselves as collateral for loan sharks.

According to him, the standard interest rate stands at 5% per day.

Additionally, he mentioned that the debts have led numerous Vietnamese laborers to resort to working illegally in Japan as a means to repay their loans without any contractual agreements.

In 2020, Japanese company representatives conducted interviews with Vietnamese laborers who were recommended by ESTRALA JSC. This event was captured in a photograph by VnExpress/An Phuong.

Last year in April, the Department of Overseas Labor Management at the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs released a statement urging companies that send Vietnamese workers to Japan to enhance their management practices.

According to a statement from the department, Japan's National Police Agency has expressed concerns about the growing number of Vietnamese individuals residing in Japan, including workers and trainees, who are getting trapped in debt and becoming victims of blackmail due to gambling debts owed to loan sharks. This issue has raised alarms within the agency as it negatively impacts Vietnam's reputation in Japan.

According to Dai, a representative from ESTRALA, the company has recently assigned its employees the responsibility of monitoring laborers in Japan, aiming to prevent them from falling into the dangerous trap of online gambling.

He expressed concern that the increasing number of Vietnamese laborers facing debt and seeking illegal employment in Japan would have a significant impact on the overall labor export market.

Vo Anh Tuan, the director at Haindeco Saigon, a Ho Chi Minh City-based organization that provides training and internship opportunities in Japan, mentioned that they have recently incorporated additional training modules focused on educating students about the harmful effects of online gambling and loan sharks.

The company has recently implemented a new policy stating that any individuals identified as "interns" engaging in online gambling activities will be promptly repatriated.

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