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Japan sees surge in foreign nursing care students amid labor shortage

In this file photo dated July 3, 2013, a Filipino care worker takes care of an elderly woman at a care home in Gunma Prefecture north of Tokyo. (Mainichi).

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan has seen a surge in foreign students enrolling in nursing care schools, with the number nearly doubling this academic year amid a labor shortage in the caregiving sector in the rapidly graying country, a survey showed Monday.

A total of 1,142 foreign students enrolled in schools with nursing care programs in April, up from 591 a year earlier, according to a survey by the Japan Association of Training Institutions for Certified Care Workers.

The number of foreign students started rising from 2015 and gained momentum following a legal amendment last September making it easier to obtain residential status for certified caregivers.

The latest figure means one in six nursing care students in Japan is foreign, as the number of Japanese students has halved over the last five years to 5,714 in April, according to the survey conducted with 365 institutions with nursing care programs including vocational schools, junior colleges, and universities.

Japanese students appear to steer clear of the job which is considered a low-wage one. The average monthly wage in the caregiving sector is about 100,000 yen ($890) less than in other industries.

Of all foreign students, those from Vietnam totaled 542, followed by those from China at 167, Nepal at 95, Indonesia at 70, and the Philippines at 68.

The Japanese government has been trying to expand its scope of acceptance of foreign workers in the sector, as the country is expected to see a shortage of 340,000 caregivers in 2025 when people in the boomer generation reach age 75 years or above.

But it is unclear whether Japan will be able to continue to see an increase in foreign students, as other countries such as Germany, Britain, the United States and Singapore are also looking for foreign workers in the caregiving sector.

Japan needs to provide a more attractive work environment such as raising wages and support for childrearing to keep attracting foreign caregivers, said Miku Ishibashi of the Daiwa Institute of Research.

"The increase in international student enrollment is a good thing but at the same time we hope many Japanese students will become interested in becoming caregivers," an official of the association said.

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