Thirty-six caregiver candidates from Indonesia and the Philippines passed the national care worker exam in January, becoming the first applicants to pass Japan’s qualification exam among hundreds of recruits under economic partnership agreements, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Wednesday.

The pass rate was 37.9 percent, while that of Japanese applicants was 63.9 percent, the ministry said. A total of 94 Indonesians and one Filipino took the test. The 36 successful candidates can now stay in Japan indefinitely.

The 35 Indonesians and one Filipino who passed the test were among the first batch of foreign caregiver candidates who arrived in Japan in 2008 and in 2009. They have been working at nursing-care facilities across the nation while preparing for the test.

“I never dreamed of passing the exam. I’m so happy to pass the test,” Wahyudin, a 30-year-old Indonesian candidate, said at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo. “After I checked the result on the Internet, I called my family (in Indonesia) and everyone congratulated me.”

Saying he has been working at a nursing home in Tokushima Prefecture since 2008, he also thanked everyone there for supporting him.

Another of the Indonesians was also ecstatic.

“After I arrived in Japan, I began Japanese-language lessons from scratch. I had so much pressure to pass the test,” said Asuri Fujianti Saelan, 26, who works at an institution in Gifu Prefecture. “The exam was very difficult, and I thought I didn’t pass.”Under the economic accords, foreign caregiver prospects need to return to their home countries if they fail the national caregiver exam after four years.

To be qualified to even take the exam, they are required to have at least three years of on-the-job-training in Japan, giving them effectively one shot to pass before they are asked to leave the county. Nurse candidates can take the national nursing exam from the first year.

“The pass rate (for foreign candidates) was much better than we had expected,” a health ministry official said. The good outcome is “due to their efforts and also accepting the support of the nursing homes. We’d like to pay our respects to them.”

Japan began accepting nurse and caregiver candidates in 2008 as part of the EPAs signed with Indonesia and the Philippines. As of Dec. 1, a total of 1,360 nurse and caregiver prospects had come to Japan under the system.

However, due to a lack of sufficient support from the government, the Indonesian and Filipino candidates have been struggling to pass the exam.

While about 90 percent of Japanese candidates pass the nursing examination, the success rate for foreign candidates has been less than 5 percent until this year, with only 17 Indonesian candidates and two Filipinos making the grade.

With the low success rate, the government began taking measures to ease the language burden.

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