A total of 47 Indonesian and Filipino nurses passed this year’s national licensing examination for nurses under a project to accept foreign trainees, the health ministry announced Monday.
Under the project based on economic partnership agreements starting in fiscal 2008, a total of 572 trainees have taken part in the program. Of them, only 19 passed the exam through last year. This year, 415 trainees took the exam, and 11.3 percent of them passed.
The pass rate for the exam has gone up 7.3 percentage points from the previous year and reached double-digits for the first time. But, it is still far lower than the 90 percent average pass rate of all examinees.
As the low pass rate for foreign trainees has been seen as a problem, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoko Komiyama said Friday the government plans to take special measures for them, such as including hiragana for each kanji character in the test and giving extra test time, starting next year.
The foreign trainees were originally scheduled to pass the exam within three years, working at medical institutions as assistant nurses. If they cannot pass the test in that period, they would lose their eligibility to stay in Japan.
As a special measure, however, the trainees, who failed the exam and whose eligibility for stay is about to expire, have been allowed to stay an extra year from last year if they attained a certain score on past exams.
Eight of 27 trainees who were allowed the extension of their stay last year passed the exam.
More than half of 104 Indonesian nurses who came to Japan in 2008 through a bilateral economic partnership agreement to obtain nursing licenses have returned home, due mainly to difficulties meeting Japanese language requirements, it has been learned.
Through the EPA program, Indonesian nurses have been allowed to work in Japanese hospitals for three years as assistant nurses who take care of inpatients. They are all licensed nurses in Indonesia. The program requires they pass an annual national nursing certification test during their three-year stay.
When the first batch arrived in 2008, the national exam was severely criticized, as non-Japanese applicants were disadvantaged by their difficulty in reading complex kanji used in the exam.
For example, the word “jokuso” (bedsore), which is difficult to read even for a Japanese if it is written in kanji, appeared in the exam.
The criticism prompted the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to simplify the exam last year. The ministry put kana alongside difficult kanji to indicate their pronunciation.
However, Indonesian nurses were discouraged by another aspect of the EPA program. As assistant nurses, they were not allowed to conduct medical treatments such as drip infusions and injections, treatments they had engaged in as licensed nurses in Indonesia.
In Japan, they were primarily in charge of services such as table setting and bathing inpatients. After leaving Japan, most of them found new jobs in medical institutions in Indonesia.
The government has an EPA program with the Philippines, through which Filipino nurses are able to work in Japan. It plans to introduce a similar scheme with Vietnam.
“It’s like taking a nursing course all over again, but this time, in Japanese.”
That is what Filipino nurses here told Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz when they met on Sunday and asked the labor chief for help in hurdling the national nursing board exams of Japan.
Baldoz said she met with six nurses and five caregivers who came here under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (Jpepa), and they asked for help because the board exams were in Japanese and “were really very difficult.”
“They asked for assistance in their review and suggested that we negotiate (with the Japanese) to find ways to make the exams easier. They said the exams were really very difficult,” Baldoz said in an interview.
“They said it was like studying again, but this time using the Japanese language,” she added.
Baldoz is in Japan to attend the International Labor Organization’s 15th Asia and the Pacific Regional Meeting (APRM), which will discuss jobs protection and economic growth amid the global financial crisis.
Baldoz said the government would raise the issue when Japan and the Philippines review the Jpepa next month.
“That’s one area we will take up in January when we have the negotiations in Manila. We will be looking into areas for improvement and that is one of the things we will check,” Baldoz said.
“The Philippine embassy here will also send some communication and I will have all of this reviewed,” she added.
Baldoz said there was already an initiative to translate the most recent Japanese board exams into English so that this could serve as a reviewer for the Filipino nurses.
“They really need this because they find the exams difficult since it’s in Japanese. They can’t understand it. You have to study Japanese for a long time to be adept at using it,” she said.
Sent back to Philippines
Under Jpepa, 1,000 Filipino nurses and caregivers are supposed to be sent to Japan to help care for its aging population. The nurses are given three years to study for their exams while working as “nursing trainees.” Those who fail are sent back to the Philippines.
As of May 2011—or nearly five years after the Jpepa was signed and nearly three years after it was ratified by the Philippine Senate—only two Filipino nurses have passed the licensure exam for nursing while 229 caregivers have been allowed to work here.
“When it comes to (the) salaries (of the nursing trainees), there is no problem. They say they still get a net of P40,000. It depends on the institutions but some of them also get free lodging and food,” Baldoz said.
She said the nurses and caregivers she met were mostly from Cotabato, Zamboanga and Bohol. The rest were from Luzon.
The government plans to allow Vietnamese nationals to work as nurses and caregivers in Japan under a bilateral economic partnership agreement, officials said Wednesday.
The government has already allowed Indonesian and Filipino nationals to work as nurses and caregivers under bilateral free-trade agreements with Jakarta and Manila.
While more than 1,300 candidate nurses and caregivers have traveled to Japan from the two countries, only 19 have passed Japan’s qualification examination for nurses, due largely to language difficulties.
A total of 104 Indonesian nurses and caregivers are to depart for Japan on Monday despite a still low number of foreign workers in Japan who have passed local examinations for health professionals since the program started in 2008.
Wearing batik clothes and able to speak some Japanese, the group attended a pre-departure ceremony at the residence of the Japanese ambassador to Indonesia hours before flying to Osaka or Tokyo.
“As the length of Japanese language training has been increased from six months at the beginning, and now to nine months, and to 12 months by next year, we all hope more candidates can pass the local examinations,” Indonesian Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Muhaimin Iskandar said.
He added there have been only 17 Indonesians who have passed the examinations in Japan to qualify as professional nurses.
The new staff will augment their three months of Japanese language training in Indonesia with another six months in Japan.
The number of Indonesians now in Japan under the program is 686, while 64 nurse candidates have returned home after failing in the test, which is in Japanese, and deciding not to have another try.
Besides Indonesia, the Philippines has also sent health professionals to Japan under a similar program.
“How can I leave these people who are relying on me?” [Juanay, a 45-year-old Filipino woman undergoing on the job training to become a certified caregiver] said.
Fanai is not the only Filipina who chose to stay on at the home despite the natural disaster and the aftershocks, coupled with the ongoing crisis at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Sandra Otacan, 35, said she had no idea the nuclear plant was situated in the same prefecture.
Shirakawa sits well beyond a 30-kilometer radius from the plant, the zone the central government asked people to evacuate or stay indoors due to potential radiation exposure.
Still her family in Mindanao island said repeatedly that Japan is dangerous when they talked to her on the telephone.
Otacan said she tried to reassure them, saying readings of radiation levels are low.
Yoshio Sugiyama, who heads the general affairs division of the home, said he is grateful to the women for staying on.
“I was preparing for the eventuality that they would immediately return to their country,” Sugiyama said. “But none of them said they would go home. They are dedicated, careful and kind. I take my hat off to their approach to their work.”
Yukie Noda, an 88-year-old resident, also expressed appreciation for the women’s devotion. “They must be feeling anxious, being away from their family,” she said. “They are really kind and do their job with passion. I have great respect for them.”
Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara called Wednesday for appropriate rules to accept more foreign workers ahead of an anticipated severe labor shortage in rapidly aging Japan, warning that China’s eventual “supergraying society” could soak up migrant workers.