By Shigeyoshi Itagaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Preparations for accepting more foreign nursing caregivers are getting into full swing, with nursing care added to the list of professional fields for the revised Technical Intern Training Program for foreigners.
The initial purpose of the program was to transfer Japanese expertise to developing countries, such as those in Asia, through foreign trainees.
However, in the nursing care industry, which is facing a severe shortage of workers, interests have been growing about the program serving as a new means of securing human resources.
A seminar about the program was held in Tokyo for nursing care operators in early March. About 30 attendees from companies, social welfare corporations and other entities paid serious attention to the lecturers, who said such things as, “Only facilities that have been established for more than three years can accept foreign trainees,” and, “You can’t send [trainees] for home-visit care services.”
The seminar was organized by Tokyo-based IMAid Co. — a consulting firm that trains human resources for medical nursing care in China, Vietnam and other countries.
“In Vietnam, there are many who cannot obtain a job at a hospital, even if they get a nurse’s license,” said IMAid President Takeshi Ogino, 52.
Ogino said it is possible that those who possess special knowledge about nursing care might want to come to Japan.
A nursing care operator accepting a trainee is said to require about ¥2 million for training costs and travel expenses to Japan over a three-year period.
“At a time when it is difficult for us to attract applicants for positions, such foreign trainees are an important [nursing care] resource. We will seriously consider accepting them,” said an employee of a company that operates a group home for people with dementia in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and other places.
Chronic lack of staff
The nursing care industry, which has a reputation for paying low salaries to caregivers while requiring them to work hard, is facing a severe labor shortage.
The nationwide average number of care workers enrolled in training schools — where promising human resources for nursing care are developed for the future — is below 50 percent of the required quota.
According to a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimate, there will be a shortage of about 380,000 nursing care workers nationwide in 2025, due partly to the declining birthrate and aging population.
Under these circumstances, nursing care will be added to the 74 existing occupational categories in the Technical Intern Training Program. Others include construction and food manufacturing. Foreign trainees are expected to start working by the end of next year.
“The main purpose of the program is to transfer Japanese expertise overseas. Solving the labor shortage is another story,” a ministry official said.
In reality, nursing care operators are considering making up for the acute labor shortage by accepting foreign trainees, the official said.
The addition of nursing care to the Technical Intern Training Program for foreigners will be the first time it is used for person-to-person services.
It is important for nursing care workers to facilitate communication with the people receiving care when helping with bathing and meals. Thus, the government has set a certain level of Japanese proficiency as one of the requirements for nursing care jobs. This requirement does not apply to the other occupational categories in the program.
In particular, interns are required to be able to “understand basic Japanese” upon entry to Japan.
In their second year, they are required to be able to “understand daily Japanese to some extent.” If they fail to attain that level, they have to return to their home country.
Although it is said that these hurdles are high, there is every reason for the strict conditions.
Nursing care operators are concerned that the introduction of trainees could lead to a deterioration in the quality of their services. If the nursing care industry gets a negative reputation, Japanese could avoid taking up jobs in the field even further, which would result in a massive labor shortage.
Passing on high-level skills
With hopes and fears in mind, some nursing care operators have been taking steps toward accepting trainees. After receiving training in their own countries, these people are to be sent to training sites via Japanese supervisory organizations.
A welfare service association in Chiba Prefecture comprising operators of special nursing care homes for the elderly plans to act as a supervising organization as early as this fiscal year to accept trainees from China.
“We’d like to participate in the program as a supervisory organization by not just leaving certain matters to the operators, such as teaching nursing care skills. We want to properly pass on high-level Japanese nursing care skills to other countries,” said the association’s director, Tomomi Yukawa, 58.
Indonesians, Filipinos, Vietnamese work under EPA
Under the current system, candidates for certified nursing care workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam work at special nursing homes for the elderly and other nursing care facilities under economic partnership agreements (EPAs). It was launched as a national program in fiscal 2008.
They can continue to work as caregivers in the country if they pass a national exam to become a certified caregiver within the first four years, in principle — the length of their permitted stay in Japan.
As of January, 2,777 people have come to Japan under the program, with 440 obtaining the national certification. Starting in April, certified foreign caregivers are allowed to provide nursing care services at elderly people’s homes and help with meals and bathing, among other roles.
In the revised Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law promulgated in November, nursing care was added to the status of residence in Japan for certified care workers.
After the revised law takes effect, foreigners who obtain national certification as caregivers after graduating from vocational schools or other academic institutions that train caregivers will be able to continue to work in the country.Speech