National

Japan to ease language requirements for foreign nursing care trainees amid sluggish growth in applications

Kyodo

The central government plans to ease language requirements for foreign technical interns in the nursing care sector as part of its efforts to bring in more laborers from abroad, government sources have said.

Japan opened up its nursing care sector to foreign nationals willing to work as trainees from November 2017. But the number of such trainees has seen sluggish growth apparently due to Japanese-language proficiency requirements, which have been set higher than those for interns in other sectors.

Currently, care workers must have either reached the N4 level on the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test before entering the country or pass N3 a year after they arrive. Those who fail the N3 test have to return to their home country.

But the government now plans to allow the workers to stay two additional years if they express their willingness to continuously study the language, the sources said Wednesday. The change in the system could go into effect in March, they said.

The move comes as Japan struggles with a labor crunch in the face of an aging population and falling birthrate. From April it will introduce a new visa system that will broaden the entry of foreign workers, including for the nursing care sector.

Japan introduced the technical intern program in 1993 with the stated goal of transferring skills to developing countries.

Having added the option of care workers to the intern program, the government had been expecting many applicants from countries such as Vietnam to engage in the job to assist the elderly in their daily activities, such as getting dressed or eating meals. But only about 250 were serving as care workers as of October last year.

Technical interns can stay up to five years. The system has been criticized as a cover for companies that want to import cheap labor.

Those who have gone through the existing technical intern program for more than three years will be able to obtain a new visa status to be created from April, and the government expects many interns to apply.

The introduction of the new visa system represents a major shift for the country, which had effectively granted working visas only to people with professional knowledge and high skills, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.

In line with the new visa policy, the government is planning to strengthen regulations on brokers who collect large sums from foreign nationals seeking to work in Japan.

According to a draft plan compiled by the labor ministry last month, the government aims to enhance the protection of foreign workers from April by introducing tougher standards for Japanese placement agencies working with brokers overseas.

Foreign workers who arrive as trainees under the technical intern program often bear heavy debts as brokers collect a large amount of money from the workers or their families under the pretext of guarantee deposits or other fees.