HANOI - Vietnam is now the biggest provider of labor to Japan under a government-sponsored training program for foreign workers. However, delays in expanding the system to include nursing care have made some young Vietnamese rethink their plans.
Do Thi Hang is among them. At 23 and with nursing experience already on her resume, she hoped to work in Japan as a caregiver under the Technical Intern Training Program, which accepts workers from developing countries for on-the-job training.
Hang is now working at a restaurant while studying Japanese on her own, having quit language classes at a Hanoi language school in April. She still wants to find work in Japan, despite her parents’ urging to return to her home town in Vinh Phuc province, north of the capital, and get married.
In the period from January to May, Vietnam overtook China as the biggest provider of participants to the program that started in 1993 and covers skills in roughly 70 professional categories, including textiles, machinery and agriculture.
During the five-month stretch, Vietnam sent 8,420 trainees, compared with 7,815 Chinese, according to the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization, which oversees the program. Trainees also come from the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.
In March 2015, the Japanese government decided to add nursing-care services to the training program to address staffing shortages.
Lawmakers then sat on the legislation. They began deliberating the changes but then got distracted by more urgent bills.
One reason for the changes was a need to address problems with the program, which critics say provides cover for low-cost labor. They also allege abuses relating to harsh living and working conditions, and some hirers have been accused of restricting the liberty of their trainees.
Hang was working as a nurse in her hometown when a staffing agency asked her to go to Japan. This presupposed the legislation’s imminent passage.
She enrolled in the school in Hanoi in August last year to prepare for work at a nursing facility for the elderly in Nara Prefecture. The posting was supposed to begin in April this year.
But the program’s changes were never approved. Instead, legislators prioritized deliberations about national security bills, some of the most contentious pieces of legislation in recent years.
Realizing that it was no longer possible to participate in the trainee program and that she could no longer rely financially on her farmer parents, Hang decided to pursue a Japanese nursing license under an economic partnership agreement between Tokyo and Hanoi.
Japan has been receiving workers aiming to be licensed as nurses and caregivers under the agreement, which it has with Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines. The agreement imposes tougher eligibility requirements in language competency and other areas than the trainee program.
Two former classmates of Hang’s have abandoned their nursing care ambitions and have gone to Japan to work in unrelated fields, including food processing, under the training program.
But Pham Anh Nguyet, 22, who also wants to become a caregiver in Japan, quit the school and now works at a restaurant in Hanoi. This is a preliminary step before embarking for Japan, as she has decided to take matters into her own hands.
With little prospect of getting on the program as a trainee nurse, Nguyet decided to go to Japan to learn the language and nursing care skills on her own.
Nguyet said her elder brother will raise some ¥900,000 to cover tuition for the first year and living expenses for the first three months. The sum is four times what an average factory worker in Vietnam earns in a year.
“I will work, like other students, between classes to pay for expenses in the subsequent period,” she said.
Thousands of young Vietnamese are thought to have planned to join the skills program but many are believed to have abandoned their plans because of the legislation logjam.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry says it hopes the measures will sail through the Diet this autumn at the earliest.