The 205 Indonesian caregivers who arrived in Japan this month have contracted with 98 institutions, including hospitals and nursing facilities in 34 prefectures, and plan to begin work in January or February after undergoing six months of language training.
The first batch of Indonesian recruits, here to work under a bilateral economic partnership agreement, consists of 104 nurses and 101 caregivers, most of them in their 20s, with women accounting for more than 60 percent.
Under the accord, which took effect July 1, Japan is expected to accept 600 caregivers and 400 nurses from Indonesia over the next two years.
Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials say Japan faces a serious shortage of caregivers and nurses as the number of people in the country requiring nursing care is expected to total 7.8 million in fiscal 2025, a 1.7-fold increase from fiscal 2006.
The ministry has calculated that Japan will need an additional 400,000 to 600,000 caregivers and nurses in 2014, which suggests their nationality will be of secondary concern.
Japanese caregivers, who are already shorthanded, are pinning their hopes on help from their Indonesian counterparts. But while some say it will be an opportunity to see if Japan is genuinely prepared to accept foreign caregivers, others are concerned that their arrival could reduce salaries that are already considered meager.
There is no denying that some employers are looking to hire foreigners because they will command lower wages.
Once they start work, the Indonesians will then be required to pass national exams — within three years for caregivers and four years for nurses — and if they fail, they will have to return home.
Care facilities, which are shouldering the cost of the language training, appear supportive of the EPA, as they have spent money in an effort to recruit foreign staff. But not all have been successful.
One reason may be remuneration. Sources familiar with the Tokyo-Jakarta EPA negotiations said the talks ran into difficulties over pay for the Indonesians. There was also a perception gap over the role of caregivers.
From Indonesia’s perspective, Japan is just one possible destination for workers going abroad. It has been dispatching maids to other countries but has almost no institutions to nurture caregivers.
It is possible that Indonesian caregivers and nurses in Japan may find the work they are required to do is not what they were expecting.
The Philippines preceded Indonesia in working out a nurse dispatch agreement with Japan but has yet to ratify the accord because the country’s nursing association opposes it, calling it discriminatory. Many Filipino nurses are said to be eager to go to Canada and elsewhere, but not necessarily to Japan.
For the nurse and caregiver system to take root, efforts will have to be made to guarantee wages that would adequately support the Indonesians and other foreign caregivers seeking to live in this country.