In what could come as a relief to Bhutanese in Japan, under the “earn and learn” programme, and their parents, the government has decided to defer the loan repayment time by two to four years.

The decision was made during a recent meeting, which the labour minister, Ugyen Dorji announced when responding to questions at the National Council yesterday.

This means that the Bhutanese currently in Japan can discontinue repaying loan. Those with bachelors’ degree graduates working and studying in Japan  can continue repaying the remaining amount of loan after two years and class XII graduates can continue after four years.

In the programme, students take a loan of about Nu 700, 000 under the overseas education and skill development loan scheme to study and work in Japan. They are given five years to repay the loan and also get six months grace period before they start repaying the loan.

Lyonpo said that among other options such as waving off the loan to waving off the interest, deferring the repayment time was found to be the best solution for both students and the government. “This will ease the pressure on the students in Japan,” he said.

More than 700 Bhutanese youth who went through “earn and learn” programme are in Japan. These youth have to work and pay for their college tuition and also pay off loans in addition to the living expenses through part-time jobs.

Labour ministry launched the programme in 2017 to improve the unemployment scenario in the country.

The Punakha National Council member Lhaki Dolma raised the issue seeking clarification from the government on how long the government would take to resolve the issue and what specific action the government was undertaking.

Lhaki Dolma also asked the minister on what the government was doing on the visa issues of about 80 students who are currently in Japan. Their visa expires soon. Another two groups of students are readying to leave for Japan. “After hearing the recent controversies, some of them changed their minds, but to get back their original documents they are asked to pay Nu 25,000,” she said.

Lhuentse NC member Tempa Dorji added that it was not a good trend of holding original documents and charging money to get them back when students want to withdraw from the programme.

“If the overseas employment programme is to continue, the issue needs to be discussed with concerned authorities in Japan,” he said.

The government recently decided to send a team of officials to investigate the issue in Japan. Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji informed the house that although the date is not confirmed, the team will meet the students and ask if they want to return or continue working there.

He also shared that soon after the recent issue in Japan, the Bhutan Employment Overseas visited Japan about nine times to study the situation.

Nirmala Pokhrel