• Bloomberg


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s offer to open Japan more to foreign medical professionals for its aging population has a taker.

Kanagawa Prefecture, designated by Abe’s administration as a special zone to experiment with looser regulations, plans to tap caregivers from overseas to ease a growing labor crunch in health care services, Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa said in a recent interview.

“We’d like to make a breakthrough,” said Kuroiwa. “There is an immediate issue of a shortage of people for care services and I’m thinking of making use of foreign caregivers who are qualified in their own countries.”

Kanagawa — with one of the nation’s fastest aging populations — would be the first prefecture to take advantage of plans to relax rules on foreign health care workers that will form part of the revamped “third arrow” growth strategy Abe plans to flesh out this month.

Tightening labor markets in construction and services threaten to hamper economic growth, prompting the prime minister to look beyond Japan’s borders for labor to sustain a recovery.

By recognizing professional credentials that workers have in their home countries, Kanagawa aims to remove a hurdle that has prevented more foreign caregivers from working in Japan for an extended period of time: the requirement to pass local exams that demand proficiency in Japanese.

As of March, the nation had accepted a total of 1,128 certified care workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam under bilateral economic partnership agreements, according to Japan International Corporation of Welfare Services.

“The obstacles are so high, and it’s such a waste,” said Kuroiwa in his office in Yokohama. “I am thinking about finding a scheme to provide a route other than EPAs.”

The growth strategy is the missing third arrow of the government’s “Abenomics” bid to stamp out inflation after the first two rounds, fiscal and radical monetary stimulus, jump-started a recovery while Abe promised structural reform.

Abe will thus face intense scrutiny over how far he goes with deregulation in his bid to free up the private sector and give municipalities more leeway to take new approaches to dealing with the shrinking labor force, aging population and sluggish growth.

Kuroiwa also wants to set up a school to foster innovation in the health services industry, which he said could spur the prefecture’s economy. Kuroiwa said he envisions a school that would take new approaches to training people in medicine.

“There are many ways to create an innovative medical school that nurtures experts who can connect technologies to businesses,” he said.