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.