Japan has seen an unexpectedly small number of foreign workers joining a trainee program for nursing care services a year after the start, official data showed Saturday, casting doubt on estimates in a government plan to welcome more workers from abroad.
A total of 247 foreigners have participated in the trainee program in the nursing care industry launched in November last year, after 986 people applied and 472 were accepted, according to the data from the Organization for Technical Intern Training, which administers the program.
The number compares with 5,000 foreign workers that the government hopes to have in the caregiving sector in the first year of its plan to hire more non-Japanese people over the five years from April to help make up for a labor shortage in the sector.
“It’s less than we had hoped,” a government official said.
The numbers are apparently due in part to a requirement that foreigners looking to take part in the program have to learn a relatively high level of Japanese in order to communicate with patients.
Participants need to have passed the N4 level of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, which indicates “the ability to understand basic Japanese,” before coming to Japan.
They must pass the N3, which denotes “the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree,” in their second year or be sent home. Other fields, such as construction, do not have these requirements.
But the stipulations have met some pushback, and Japan is now considering allowing foreigners who fail the N3 to remain in the country.
“Vietnam and the Philippines have expressed concern that their people could be sent back, and that has made them reluctant to send anyone in the first place,” the government official said.
The Technical Intern Training Program, which was created in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills from Japan to developing countries, has also gained a reputation for subjecting people to long hours for low pay and in some cases, verbal and physical abuse, which may also be discouraging participation.
The data come amid Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to create a new visa status that will bring up to about 345,000 foreigners into Japan over the next five years to work in fields that are experiencing a severe labor shortage as the nation’s population rapidly ages.
The government is aiming for the nursing care sector to account for 50,000 to 60,000 of those jobs to help make up for a shortage of 340,000 caregivers expected by 2025. But that projection may look overly optimistic, especially in the face of competition from countries including Germany, Singapore and the United States, which also have a shortage of caregivers.
A bill on the plan, which Abe hopes will take effect next April, is currently being deliberated in the Upper House of the Diet after the ruling bloc pushed it through the Lower House earlier last week.