The welfare ministry is considering making it tougher to take the national examination to become a social welfare agent and provide advice to seniors and disabled people, ministry sources said Monday.

The idea is to enhance the quality of service providers by increasing, for instance, the number of training hours needed before taking the exam.

Critics say tightening such conditions may make it difficult for non-Japanese to break into the labor market for welfare services, even though calls have been mounting to allow more foreign workers in this sector.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is considering requiring applicants from vocational schools to have 300 hours of on-site training in nursing homes or hospitals, the sources said.

Demand for welfare advisers is rising in step with the graying of the population and the 2000 introduction of nursing care insurance. Businesses and the government’s deregulation panel advocate hiring foreign workers to fill the demand.

Last month, the government’s deregulation panel compiled an interim report urging the government to deregulate employment restrictions for foreigners who have obtained qualifications in Japan or in their home countries to work as social welfare advisers or caregivers.

Advisers principally work in nursing homes and homes for the disabled. They also visit hospitals and families with sick people to provide legal and other forms of advice on welfare services.

As of the end of May, there were 82,000 certified advisers, an 11-fold increase over 10 years ago.

Other Asian countries are calling on Japan to open up its labor market in the social welfare field.

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