A new batch of Filipino health workers, pre-qualified to train for practicing their profession in Japan under a bilateral agreement, left the Philippines for Japan on Wednesday.

The 144 health workers — 64 nurses and 80 caregivers — are required to participate in a six-month language program before starting medical training at Japanese health institutions, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said.

The group already underwent a six-month Japanese language course in the Philippines, a measure aimed at increasing the chances for Filipino candidates to pass the Japanese license exam for nurses and caregivers.

Before boarding her flight to Japan, nurse Maribeth Siocson, 27, said the six months of training "prepared us for the big challenge that we will face in Japan."

Six caregivers considered to be part of the batch were in May deployed to their respective health institutions in Japan because of their language proficiency, the POEA said.

Under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, which took effect in December 2008, 237 Filipino nurses and 396 caregivers were sent to Japan until May last year.

But so far only 25 Filipino nurses and 43 caregivers have passed the Japanese license examinations.

To increase the exam pass rate, the Japanese government, through the Japan Foundation, began offering a three-month pre-training for Filipino health workers in 2011.

Apart from the extension of the pre-training period to six months, Japan also allowed the provision of English translations of highly technical medical terms in the license examinations.