In a nursing care sector plagued by continuous labor shortages, foreign workers are becoming a valuable, work-ready resource. It is important to provide foreign workers with long-term support to help them acquire Japanese language skills and other kinds of expertise.
Under a new system to employ foreign workers launched in April, the government has granted foreign nationals the so-called specified skilled worker residence status for the first time in the field of nursing care.
Those granted the status include Filipinos and other foreign nationals who came to Japan under the framework of an economic partnership agreement (EPA), failed to pass the examination for certified care workers, but have about four years of training and work experience in the field. It is appropriate to allow people who are familiar with Japan to continue to work in the country.
The EPA framework has been implemented for more than 10 years. A total of 4,300 people from three countries, including the Philippines, have entered Japan under the framework.
Those applicants who pass an examination to become certified care workers are eligible to work in Japan permanently. However, unsuccessful applicants have no choice but to return home. The pass rate among foreign test-takers stands at only 50 percent, due to insufficient language skills among other reasons.
The government has decided to allow those who meet certain conditions, such as “scoring 50 percent or more of the passing mark,” to switch to the specified skilled worker status even though they failed to pass the exam.
Under the EPA framework, people who have studied nursing and nursing care in their home countries can apply for a visa and receive training in Japan. Such applicants are highly evaluated by care service users and facilities. Hopes are high also that those foreign workers who switched their status to the specified skilled worker status will obtain the qualification of certified care workers during their stay of up to five years.
Improve work environment
A shortfall in suitable human resources is serious. In fiscal 2025 when baby boomers reach 75 or older, the nation is expected to face a shortage of 340,000 nursing care workers. It is crucial to secure and develop a wide range of human resources from a mid- to long-term perspective.
The number of foreign students enrolling at vocational schools and other institutions that train care workers has been on the rise. Care service providers and users should be informed that there are multiple schemes to accept foreign nationals.
Japanese language ability is especially vital in nursing care. To facilitate communication with care service users and their families, Japanese language training programs must be improved to remove language barriers.
Efforts to improve workplace environments are also urged. In daily work, it is desirable to use easy-to-understand expressions as well as to create documents such as nursing care records in a simplified manner.
It is also imperative to provide foreign workers with support in their daily lives, such as helping them find housing. Care service providers that accept foreign workers bear a heavy responsibility. The government needs to provide thorough guidance.
It is essential to make efforts to improve the working environment not only for foreign nationals but also for the nursing care sector as a whole. Employees often have to do exhausting work and wage levels are significantly lower than the combined average for all industries. Given that, workers who quit their jobs are conspicuous in this sector, increasing the burden on those who remain.
In line with the consumption tax rate hike in October, the government plans to raise monthly pay for experienced certified care workers by ¥80,000. The treatment of care workers must be steadily improved.