First nurses arrive from Indonesia

Newcomers eager to offer care but language, other hurdles may delay their contribution

by Shinichi Terada

Tri Yulianti, 23-year-old Indonesian, has worked as a nurse in Jakarta for two years and hopes to start caring for Japan’s elderly early next year.

She is one of the first group of some 200 Indonesian caregivers and nurses who arrived Thursday to find jobs in Japan under the two nations’ economic partnership agreement that took effect July 1.

“I’m very excited to work in Japan,” she said with a smile through an interpreter at Narita International Airport. “Japan has a good culture, technology and people. I also have a sister living in Japan, so I’d feel comfortable living here.”

This is the first time Japan has allowed a large number of foreigners to work in hospitals and nursing homes. But their help will be welcome.

Care facilities are suffering from an acute labor shortage that is being made worse by the rapidly growing elderly population.

Japan is preparing to make similar arrangements with its other regional neighbors, including the Philippines.

The Indonesian group consists of 104 nurses and 101 caregivers, with women accounting for some 60 percent of the group.

They will go through Japanese language and other training programs at government-affiliated organizations across Japan for six months, and will start work at around 100 institutions from January or February.

The EPA will allow them to stay for three to four years, but if they want to stay indefinitely, they will have to pass the national qualification exams, which have deadlines of three years for nurses and four years for caregivers.

Japan will accept up to 400 nurses and 600 caregivers over two years. Half of them were supposed to be secured in the first year, but a short application period and other factors left Japan more than halfway short of its target.

Experts are concerned about the program’s viability because nurses and caregivers have only six months to build sufficient language skills and will be hard-pressed to pass the national qualification tests in just three to four years.

Meanwhile, other developed countries are also trying to hire nurses.

Ariani Setyaningsih, a veteran nurse in Jakarta, said she was worried about the linguistic, religious and other cultural differences she will face in Japan.

“Learning a new language is a great challenge,” she said.

Naydial Mscplt, senior adviser to the health minister in Jakarta, said at the airport that the nurses will not have problems because they will learn about Japanese language, lifestyle and other subjects during training.

“This is a test to prove whether they can improve the quality of nurses in Indonesia. When Indonesian nurses go home, they can bring their experiences and knowledge home,” he said. “They are new agents of development to the Indonesian nurses and medical institutions.”

According to the results of a survey conducted on more than 1,500 hospitals by Kyushu University’s Asia Center, 46 percent of the some 500 hospitals that replied said they want to hire foreign nurses. But 20 percent said they were reluctant to hire them because of the language barrier. The results of the survey were released in March.

Yulianti said that people worldwide are the same and she will try to display her friendliness first.

“I know Japanese people are shy. I will take actions first, such as greet and bow. No. 1 is smile,” she said.