Health ministry panel urges allowing foreign caregivers to engage in elderly home care


A health ministry panel compiled plans Friday aimed at allowing potential foreign caregivers entering Japan under bilateral free trade agreements to take care of elderly patients at their homes.

The move to expand work opportunities for the foreign caregivers — currently limited to working in nursing care homes and other facilities — comes as the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry aims to address the acute labor shortage in Japan’s nursing care sector and its rapidly graying population.

The government may implement the proposal in fiscal 2017, sources familiar with the matter said. The panel said in its report that the caregivers should be allowed to engage in home care after passing the national qualification examination.

Foreign caregivers should be eligible to provide services for the elderly at their homes as long as they know the Japanese language and have a certain level of practical experience, the panel said, citing the need to avoid incidents that could be triggered by the language barrier.

Japan accepts caregivers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam under bilateral free trade agreements, but they must sit for certification tests to continue working in Japan.

Around 2,100 trainees have arrived in Japan from the three Southeast Asian countries since fiscal 2008.

Under the bilateral deals, the current length of stay for prospective caregivers, who study for the exams while working at nursing care facilities, is four years. So far, more than 300 have passed the exams. Nursing care facility operators welcomed the move, saying it will give more opportunities for them to work.

“If they have the ability to pass the test on nursing care and Japanese language, there should be no problem for them to work here,” said Takeshi Kameo, who heads a care facility in the town of Yoichi, Hokkaido, which has accepted six Filipino nurses since 2009.

But of the six, two had returned to their home country due to marriage and other reasons, he said, adding that there aren’t many who stay long term.