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Caregiving industry seeks system for foreigners who fail test to change residency status

Rusadi, an employee at the Royal Akashi special nursing home for the elderly, talks to a woman using a wheelchair in the city of Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Feb. 19, 2019. (Mainichi/Jun Kaneko)

KOFU -- Despite serious staff shortages, some foreigners with experience in Japan's nursing care industry face a danger of being forced to return to their country without being able to obtain a new residency status being launched in April.

Foreigners who come to Japan under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) must leave Japan if they cannot pass the national care worker qualification exam. Meanwhile, people with "special skills" can work in Japan without the national certification.

Those in the caregiving industry are urging the government to introduce a system so foreigners who fail the national exam can make a transition to the new residency status.

One foreigner who faces such a critical situation is 29-year-old Rusadi, who came to Japan in 2014 under the EPA after graduating from a nursing school in Indonesia. He currently works at the Royal Akashi special nursing home for the elderly while studying to be a certified care worker. The facility is run by Nissinkai social welfare corporation in Yamanashi's prefectural capital of Kofu, west of Tokyo.

On Feb. 19 the employee was seen smiling and asking a woman using a wheelchair, "Have you had something to eat yet?" The female resident grinned and replied, "No, not yet."

After coming to Japan, Rusadi married a 30-year-old Indonesian woman and their daughter was born last year. He commented, "I enjoy talking with residents. I want to remain working in Japan and move my family here."

Under the EPA, foreigners can take the national exam a maximum of two times after three years of training and remain working in Japan if they pass. However, the exam is very difficult with only about a 50 percent pass rate. Rusadi failed last year and estimated he will get a similar score this year. His actual score will be announced in late March. If he fails, he must return to Indonesia by June, when his period of stay ends.

Nursing care is included in one of the business sectors under the new residency status. Those who pass the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test and skills exam can work up to five years in Japan without the national qualification. Since workers with specific skills must acquire nursing skills equivalent to three years of training, Rusadi seems to comply with the requirements.

However, the Japanese government has not considered a system for foreigners currently working under the EPA to switch to the new residency status. The nursing skills test to be conducted this April is scheduled to be hosted only in countries outside of Japan. Although Rusadi and other foreigners have an option to take the test by returning to their home countries, it takes months to apply for a re-entry permit for Japan.

A Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare official said they "still don't know" about such a supportive system.

Nissinkai President Michiharu Hirashima says Rusadi is invaluable for the corporation as he "is very caring" and would like him stay in Japan and train other foreign staff.

University of Shizuoka professor Sachi Takahata pointed out, "It would be a waste for human resources who were trained using taxpayers' money to leave Japan." The sociologist, familiar with accepting foreigners in the nursing care industry, added, "The government should introduce a supportive system for human resources that want to stay in Japan because foreigners that come to Japan under the EPA have graduated from universities and have a high level of Japanese language ability."

(Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

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