‘Pioneering’ Indonesian caregivers now face true test

by Reiji Yoshida

Like the other Indonesian welfare workers who arrived Thursday in Japan to work under a bilateral accord, nurse Erli Ridwan, 35, hopes to pass the qualifying test to stay in the country and provide care.

Ridwan is well-aware of the still-lingering reluctance of the Japanese government to accept long-term foreign workers, particularly those categorized as unskilled.

“We are the pioneers. We’d like to change (the situation),” said Ridwan, who, accompanied by Indonesian Ambassador to Japan H. Jusuf Anwar, spoke at a news conference Friday at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

“I’d like to do my best to pass the national qualification test” for welfare workers.

Ridwan and 204 other Indonesian nurses and caregivers arrived Thursday in Tokyo, the first to take advantage of an economic partnership agreement that took effect in July.

Japan, which badly needs nurses and caregivers to support its rapidly aging population, agreed to accept Indonesian nurses and caregivers under the EPA. The accord, however, stipulates the Indonesians must return home in three to four years if they fail to pass the national qualifying test.

Although some observers say the chance to earn higher wages is probably the major motivation for Indonesian workers coming to Japan, “I think the level of my salary matches” the living standards and costs in Japan, Ridwan said.

Ridwan, who has worked as a nurse for eight years, said his salary in Japan will be ¥152,500 a month, a far cry from the 1.5 million rupiah (about ¥18,000) he earned back home.

“(The level of) the salary is different, but the living standards and costs also differ from country to country,” Ridwan said.

Like Ridwan, another worker at the news conference, Danta (who does not, like many Indonesians, have a family name) emphasized that their main reason for applying for a job in Japan was to learn advanced nursing techniques and technologies rather than to earn money.

Because the national qualifying tests are given in Japanese, passing them is considered especially difficult for non-Japanese.

After undergoing language training for six months, the Indonesians will be assigned to 100 hospitals and other welfare facilities in 37 prefectures.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the medical and nursing industry is facing an acute labor shortage. As of June, there were on average 2.19 job openings for every applicant in the industry, whereas the average among all industries is 0.79.