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MANILA (Kyodo) Tokyo is set to propose to Manila during their ongoing free trade talks that it will allow Filipino nurses and caregivers to work indefinitely in Japan if they obtain Japanese government qualifications, Japanese sources said Monday.

During the fifth round of negotiations, which began Monday in Manila, Tokyo plans to submit an offer in which Philippine nurses and caregivers capable of speaking a certain level of Japanese would be eligible for training at Japanese facilities and then be allowed to take national certification examinations.

Nurses would be allowed to take the qualification exam in the first year of their stay, while caregivers would need three years of work experience at Japanese nursing homes before taking the exam, they said.

Once candidates were certified, there would be no limit placed on their stays in Japan. But if they had not passed the exam within three years after their first attempt, they would have to return home, the sources added.

Japan intends to reach a basic agreement on the nursing issue during a summit next month of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, China and South Korea, and aims to conclude a free trade pact by the end of the year, according to the sources.

If the two countries manage to strike a deal, Japan would begin accepting about 100 Filipino nurses and caregivers annually at hospitals and nursing homes starting in fiscal 2006, they said.

Currently, foreign nurses are permitted to work in Japan only after graduating from Japanese nursing schools and receiving certification.

Other issues on the table during the five days of talks include trade in agriculture and manufactured goods as well as market access.

Studies have shown that an economic deal with Japan could lead to a 3 percent increase in Philippine economic growth.

In the fourth round of talks in Tokyo, Japan pressed the Philippines to provide greater investment and services-trade opportunities for Japanese businesses, and the Philippines asked that Japan’s job market be opened to Philippine nurses and other health-care workers.

Relaxing Japan’s conditions for Filipino nurses and caregivers has been a focal point of the negotiations.

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