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Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Foreign caregiver exits put program in doubt
So far five Indonesians who qualified have returned home
When 35 Indonesian caregivers undergoing on-the-job training passed Japan's qualification examination this year, it was good news for their hosting facilities, which held high hopes they would continue providing much-needed manpower.
Yet as of June, five of them had quit and returned to Indonesia "for personal reasons," bringing great disappointment to the facilities that spent tens of millions of yen training them.
Many blame the government for failing to provide a clear and adequate explanation of the program when recruiting candidates under the free-trade agreement with Indonesia.
Tatsumi Nakayama, who runs a nursing home in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, recalled being astonished when a female Indonesian caregiver who had been training there and passed the exam suddenly said she wanted to go back to Indonesia because she was getting married.
The nursing home began hosting the Indonesian in 2008 as a prospective caregiver, providing on-the-job training as well as paying for her Japanese-language and test-preparation tutorials with the expectation that she would eventually contribute as a core member of its staff.
The total cost, including her ¥180,000 monthly salary, on par with that of Japanese college graduates, came to ¥30 million over four years, according to Nakayama.
While Nakayama said he had been told the foreign caregiver would be working for the facility once she passed the exam, the woman insisted this had not been explained to her and she took off for Indonesia last month.
An official involved in the program, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted the government "did not do enough" to ensure thorough understanding of the program's requirements and the obligations it entails.
Applicants are required to attend briefings held by the Indonesian government prior to coming to Japan, but back in 2008 they were not given any clear explanation regarding what they would be required to do after passing the exam.
Even basic rules, including that they could only continue to work in Japan beyond the four-year training period if they passed the test, had not been mentioned, according to the government official.
In view of the problem, the central government began in November to stipulate in briefing information kits for applicants that candidates are expected, in principle, to work in Japan for a prolonged period after passing the qualification exam.
To improve the low pass rate of foreign applicants taking the exams, the government also decided to grant them more time when taking the tests, starting this fiscal year, and to attach hiragana or katakana for all kanji used in questions.
Of the 104 Indonesian caregivers who came to Japan in 2008, 94 took the qualification exams for the first time in January. Among the 35 who passed, five have left Japan and three others have expressed their intention to do so.
While many cited personal reasons, such as returning home to care for ill family members, there was also one who planned all along to return home regardless of the exam result.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has indicated it plans to conduct a followup investigation but has been slow to act. It has been negative from the beginning about accepting foreign caregivers because they could affect the employment of Japanese workers.
The ministry's attitude has led to distrust and discontent among many in the nursing business, which is suffering from a shortage of skilled and talented caregivers.
"With all the confusion over the latest issue, I'm worried that the countries that have concluded free-trade agreements (with Japan) will lose their eagerness to send prospective caregivers here," one industry insider said.
"Perhaps we need to establish a new framework to resolve the issue of securing manpower."
Commenting on the situation, Kiyoshi Kitamura, a professor at the University of Tokyo's International Research Center for Medical Education, said: "To what extent would it be considered appropriate for the foreign caregivers' lives to be bound by the program? We must contemplate this, along with the question of whether the Japanese people are really up for nursing care provided by foreigners."
Under the agreements concluded by Japan with Indonesia and the Philippines, nurses and caregivers from the two countries can undergo on-the-job training in Japan for several years and continue working in the country if they pass the national qualification exams within a designated period.
But the kanji and technical terms employed are believed to pose a considerable hurdle for foreign applicants, whose pass rates remain significantly lower than Japanese applicants.