SAPPORO – The first nursing care workers from Myanmar to participate in Japan’s foreign trainee program arrived at New Chitose Airport near Sapporo on Monday, amid expectations that the Southeast Asian country will provide much-needed workers.
The training program for foreign nationals began in 1993 with the stated aim of transferring various skills to developing countries. But it has also helped create a supply of cheap labor to Japan as the country struggles with worker shortages due to its graying population and plummeting birth rate.
The three workers, all women in their 20s, will spend three years gaining experience at Sapporo-based Sakura Community Service Co., according to an official at the firm’s affiliate in Yangon.
They flew from Yangon with a layover in Thailand to arrive at the airport, where heavy snow over the weekend had left roughly 2,000 people stranded.
“I chose Japan because I like Japanese culture. But I’m worried about the cold weather,” Wut Yee Phyo told reporters Sunday before boarding a plane in Yangon.
The 23-year-old, making her first trip abroad, also said she will try “not to make mistakes resulting from cultural differences between Myanmar and Japan.”
Another, 28-year-old Zin Zin Moe, said she was not concerned as she believes she was trained thoroughly.
“I wanted to be a caregiver and help the elderly because I didn’t get the chance to look after my father (who died),” she said.
Japan opened up its nursing care sector to foreign trainees in November 2017.
Besides the trainee program, Japan has accepted people from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam to work in nursing facilities under bilateral free trade agreements.
They can continue to work in Japan if they pass a national exam for certified caregivers. Under the bilateral programs, the first of which began with Indonesia in fiscal 2008, around 4,300 people have come to Japan.
But only 719 individuals had passed the exam by fiscal 2017 as it requires a high level of Japanese language proficiency.
Some skeptics say workers coming to Japan may have a difficult time adjusting; Myanmar has a life expectancy of 67 years compared to Japan’s 84 years, and many have never cared for a person who cannot use the toilet by themselves, for example.
The first foreign trainees in the nursing care field were two Chinese women, who arrived in Japan last July.
The two, both with caregiving experience in the city of Dalian, were accepted at welfare facilities in Miyazaki Prefecture.
Amid Japan’s severe labor shortage, the government has decided to introduce new visa classifications from April that are expected to broaden the admission of foreign labor, including blue-collar workers.
Until recently Japan has maintained a basic policy of granting working visas only to people with professional knowledge and high levels of skill, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.
But many foreign nationals work under technical intern status, while foreign students are also allowed to work part-time.