Housekeeping operators are looking to increase more foreign maids in Tokyo, taking advantage of a special deregulation-zone system, as the need for such services is expected to grow.

Two Filipinas, Jocelyn Paloma Oledan and Marianne Paragua Culaniban, on Wednesday flew from Manila to Tokyo’s Haneda airport, where they were welcomed by their employer, Tokyo-based housekeeping services firm Bears Co.

Both said they were happy for the chance to work in Japan, which they called a safe country, adding that they had few concerns about their time in Tokyo.

“I’d like to start working now,” said Oledan.

Current immigration law does not permit foreign workers to be employed as maids for Japanese households. But Tokyo, Osaka and Kanagawa have been allowed to accept them by taking advantage of the special deregulation-zone system.

Conditions for firms wishing to partake in the system include paying workers a salary equivalent to Japanese peers and offering necessary training. Housekeepers must also have at least one year of professional experience and have basic Japanese skills.

A handful of firms have already started such services in Osaka and Kanagawa while Bears said the demand is higher in Tokyo.

Oledan and Culaniban are the first foreign maids for Bears. Under the system, created to alleviate Japan’s labor-shortage woes in the sector, workers receive a special visa that allows them to stay for a maximum of three years.

Yuki Takahashi, executive vice president of Bears, said labor shortages in the housekeeping sector continue to plague the industry.

“There are actually many things that we can do to increase housekeeping jobs for Japanese people and it’s important to tackle it,” she said. “But even if we do everything we can, I still doubt we will meet the demand.”

As more women continue working after marriage or having children, the need for housekeepers is steadily growing, so a push is needed for more foreign workers to be accepted, according to Takahashi.

Housekeeping company Bears was founded by Takahashi and her husband in 1999 based on their experience in Hong Kong. A maid who worked for them there was so helpful, Takahashi said, that she was able to keep working after she became a mother.

At that time hiring maids was just a custom among rich people, so they wanted to make housekeeping service more casual and available to more Japanese women. That way, they would not have to give up their careers after marriage, the firm’s website says.

As for the current crop of incoming workers, Takahashi vowed to offer the firm’s full support for its foreign employees.

“The first priority is of course safety, and we want them to stay healthy and enjoy working without any trouble,” she said.

The firm said it plans to provide Oledan and Culaniban with about a month and half of housekeeping training based on the Japanese culture and lifestyle. If things go smoothly, they will start providing services in August.

Bears aims to accept 300 foreign maids within three years.

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