Thirty-five Indonesians and one Filipino have passed Japan’s fiscal 2011 national qualification test to become certified care workers. The Indonesians came to Japan in 2008 and the Filipino in 2009 under Japan’s economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with their countries. Despite all being professionally qualified to work as nurses or similar professionals in their home countries, the success rate for the 95 non-Japanese who took the test was just 38 percent compared to the overall success rate of 64 percent. Clearly the Japanese language posed a barrier for foreign participants.

The health and welfare ministry has decided to increase the number of foreign nurses and care workers in Japan at a rate that will not affect the Japanese labor market. Nonetheless, it predicts that in 2025, the number of health care workers and nurses in Japan will fall short by more than 300,000 and 700,000 respectively. The government needs to work out a clear policy how best to facilitate the inclusion of foreign nurses and nursing care workers.

The success rate for people who came to Japan under the EPAs and took a similar test in fiscal 2011 to become nurses was much lower — just 11 percent — because they had to take a much tougher medical knowledge test in Japanese. Such low success rates will further serve to discourage candidates who have come or want to come to Japan to work in the health care industry.

It has also been reported that the number of nursing care facilities ready to accept foreign professionals is decreasing due to a lack of financial support. The government should improve support for such facilities as well as take measures to increase the success rates in qualification tests without lowering test standards.

Nurse candidates are allowed to stay in Japan for three years and care worker candidates for four years before they have to pass a qualification test. Nurse candidates can take the test up to three times from a year after their arrival. But care worker candidates have only one chance to take the qualification exam because they first have to have three year’s trainee experience in a nursing care facility.

All candidates are given half a year of Japanese language training after they arrive in Japan. Although the government started providing furigana alongside difficult kanji on the tests to make them easier to read, it should at the very least also provide subsidies to nursing facilities so that more can accept foreign trainees and give them an opportunity to improve their Japanese language skills and increase their chances of success.

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