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Japan adding paths to let in foreign care workers

  • October 26, 2016
  • , Nikkei Asian Review , 5:00 a.m.
  • English Press

TOKYO — Japan will let more foreign nursing care providers into the country through an expanded training program, aiming to alleviate a severe shortage while working around resistance to increased immigration.


The Technical Intern Training Program lets workers from overseas reside in Japan for a set period before returning to their home countries. The lower house of the Diet passed legislation Tuesday adding nursing care to the program. The government also aims to have the maximum stay extended to five years from three during this Diet session.


The next step being discussed is letting nursing care interns keep working in Japan beyond the end of their allotted term if they meet strict conditions, such as becoming certified care workers during the training period. This would be a first for the program.


Japan currently accepts foreign caregivers through economic partnership agreements with Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. But just 3,800 or so have come in through this route so far. The changes under consideration would let exchange students from countries not covered by these deals earn official certification and acquire long-term working visas, in addition to the interns expected to take a similar path via the training program.


These steps come amid alarm over a looming caregiver shortage. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare expects demand for nursing care providers to outstrip supply by roughly 380,000 in 2025. With measures targeting Japanese workers, such as higher wages, expected to have only a limited impact, the government concluded that letting in more foreigners is necessary.


But whether the proposed changes will be enough remains unclear. To become certified care workers — and thus eligible to stay in Japan long-term — applicants must pass an exam that requires a high degree of Japanese fluency, including specialized vocabulary, presenting a tough hurdle to clear.


And Japan must compete for caregivers with other aging Asian countries. The United Nations estimates that the proportion of the population aged 65 or older in such countries as Indonesia will double by 2040.


Some in the business world and elsewhere contend that Japan should eventually relax restrictions on immigration to address chronic labor shortages in a wide range of fields, including nursing care, construction and agriculture. But deep-rooted concerns about cultural friction and possible unrest have left the government leery of doing so.

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