Labor office recognizes overwork death of foreign intern for 1st time

A labor office in Ibaraki Prefecture has found that a Chinese trainee at a local firm died in 2008 due to overwork, marking the first recognized death from overwork of a foreign intern under a government-authorized training program.

The male trainee, Jiang Xiaodong, died of cardiac arrest aged 31 in June 2008 after working more than 100 hours of overtime in his final month, prompting his family to file a workers’ compensation claim in August 2009.

Jiang came to Japan as a trainee under the program in 2005 and was working at a plating factory of metal processing firm Fuji Denka Kogyo in Itako, Ibaraki, according to the Kashima labor standards inspection office.

[Zenkoku Ippan Tokyo General Union] Lawyer Shoichi Ibusuki, representing the bereaved family, said Jiang had worked about 150 hours of overtime a month since his second year and generally had only two days off per month.

“There are many foreign trainees who died after being forced to work excessively, but many of the cases have been shrouded in darkness,” Ibusuki said. “The latest case (involving Jiang) is just the tip of the iceberg, and the overtime recognition came too late.”

Accused of violating the labor standard law, Fuji Denka Kogyo President Takehiko Fujioka, 67, and the company faced a summary order last month to pay a fine of 500,000 yen each.

The training program for foreigners was introduced in Japan in 1993, with a stated aim of helping enhance technological expertise and nurturing human resources in developing countries.

Foreign interns were originally exempted from Japanese labor-related laws during the training period in their first year in Japan. But with a spate of work-related troubles breaking out across the nation, the Immigrant Control and Refugee Recognition Law was revised and they became covered by labor-related laws last July provided they undertake two months of designated classroom lectures, such as those on the Japanese language.

About 200,000 foreigners stayed in Japan under the program in 2009. In the year from April 2009, 27 interns died from work accidents or illness.

According to Ibusuki, most of them were in their 20s and 30s. He said foreign interns “are abused under poor (working) conditions, under the premise of transfer of technology or international contribution. It is just like slavery.”

Japan modifies nursing licensure exam for foreigners

The nursing licensure exam in Japan for foreigners will be modified in February in the hope that more foreign nurses will be able to pass it and eventually work with Japanese patients, a Philippine official said Tuesday.

Philippine Overseas Employment Agency chief Jennifer Manalili said Japan has agreed to put English translations beside some Japanese technical or medical terms in its upcoming licensure exam following requests by the Philippine government.

“Japan has come up already with a commitment that for the next licensure exam, which is held every February, very difficult kanji words that are too technical for nurses will have English translations beside them, enclosed in parenthesis, so that they will be easier for our candidate nurses to understand,” Manalili said.

So far, only one Filipino and two Indonesian nurses have passed the Japanese nursing licensure exam — the one held in February this year — since foreigners were allowed to take it under free trade accords between Japan and other countries.

In February last year, none of the 82 foreigners who took the test passed. This year’s test was taken by 254 foreigners.

Since the implementation of the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement in December 2008, more than 300 Filipino nurses have been deployed to Japan to undergo language training, fewer than the initial target of 1,000 for the first two years, Manalili said.

The language barrier has been regarded as the main stumbling block in the dispatch of Filipino nurses to Japan, and whether or not they could practice there.

“With this development wherein there will be translations in the exam, we hope that we can have more passers,” Manalili said.

Abuse rife within trainee system, say NGOs

Foreigners report harsh job conditions, poverty-line pay, mistreatment under notorious program

Started in 1993, the aim of the Technical Intern Training Program is to “provide training in technical skills, technology (and) knowledge” to workers from developing countries, according to the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), which oversees the program. But in practice, say advocacy groups, the majority of both trainees and the companies who accept them think of the relationship primarily as regular employment. A convoluted placement system complicates the situation: Between the trainees — the majority of whom come from China — and the workplace where they end up, there are usually at least three intermediary organizations involved, in Japan and the participants’ native country.

Until 2009, the number of trainees in Japan had been rising steadily, with more than 100,000 participating in the program in 2008. The majority of trainees are brought in under the auspices of JITCO. After the global economic crisis, the number of JITCO-authorized trainees fell in 2009 to 50,064 (down from 68,150). According to the latest figures, the total for 2010 was 39,151 as of October.

The Tokyo-based Advocacy Network for Foreign Trainees has served as the national umbrella organization for trainee advocacy groups since 1999. The network’s members are 90 researchers, lawyers, journalists and other individuals, and 10 groups including labor unions and local trainee advocacy groups.

The network’s members exchange and compile information from cases they have dealt with locally every month, and meet once a year to draft recommendations to the government.

But information-sharing is often a one-way street, says [Zentoitsu Workers Union’s] Hiroshi Nakajima, one of the network’s organizers. When a company is turned in for abuses of the program, the Justice Ministry investigates and can punish the placement organization or company by putting a halt on new trainee visas. But Nakajima calls the process a “black box,”; questions go unanswered during investigations, he says, and the resulting punishments are not even made public.

The network is sometimes able to get information on banned companies from the ministry upon request, but not in every case. Often the group only knows that a placement organization or company has been punished when they find that a firm no longer has any trainees.

“Because the immigration authorities don’t publicize the names of the organizations that have been convicted of wrongdoing, we have no way of knowing which organizations should be banned from accepting trainees and until when,” says Nakajima.

Ichiro Takahara of the Fukui Advocacy Network for Foreign Trainees says the local labor bureau also fails to provide relevant public information. Takahara’s group has assisted around 250 interns and trainees since its formation in June 2000 following the Takefu incident.

“The fact that the Labor Standards Inspection Office doesn’t make public the names of the offending companies invites those companies to continue reaping the benefits of engaging in illegal activities,” says Takahara. This, he explains, accounts for the fact that 85 percent of the companies employing trainees that were investigated by the Fukui Labor Bureau in 2009 had committed labor or safety infractions. This was the lowest rate in five years.

“The sense of guilt over committing a labor violation is less than that over committing a traffic violation,” he says.

Japan urged to welcome more skilled migrants

Under the proposal of the Japan Forum on International Relations, Japan would adopt a skills-based migration system and put in place social integration policies to prevent the kind of tensions seen in Europe over immigration.

While Japan historically has been reluctant to allow large-scale immigration, some opinion leaders now see it as the only way to boost domestic demand, re-energise the economy and fill labour shortages.

What Japan does on immigration will be keenly watched by multinational companies and capital markets. The country has lost favour as an investment destination because of economic and political stagnation, high corporate tax levels and a range of other factors, including the rise of China.

But it remains the world’s third-largest economy and a massive market for goods and services, so if a path to growth can be found, some of the lost interest and investment will come back.

Kenichi Ito, chairman of the forum’s policy council and one of the proposal’s main authors, said he saw Australia, Canada and the US as models for Japan’s ideal immigration system.

“If Japan wants to survive in a globalised world economy and to advance its integration with the burgeoning East Asian economy, it essentially has no other choice but to accept foreign migrants, while making full use of domestic human resources,” he said. “A key question is not whether we should accept foreign migrants or not, but how we should accept them.”

The number of foreigners moving to Japan has grown gradually from 1.5 million 10 years ago to more than 2 million now, but the growth has been very slow, particularly considering Japan’s population of 127 million.

Mr Ito told The Australian the forum had not set numerical targets for the migration intake, but that clearly a substantial increase in migration was needed.

“The annual intake is estimated to be 50,000 to 60,000 as far as the last 10 years is concerned. We think such a number is too small,” Mr Ito said.

Along with a large skills-based migrant intake, the report proposes that Japan learns from previous immigration mistakes. An almost impossible-to-pass exam for Philippine and Indonesian nurses allowed into Japan should be rewritten to focus on vocational competence rather than Japanese language proficiency; international qualifications should be more easily recognised; and foreign workers should be able to bring their families.

Mr Ito, a former diplomat who is now an emeritus professor at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University, said Japan must be careful to avoid the tensions over immigration that were affecting countries such as France, Germany and Britain.

“We should learn from Australia, the US and Canada. We should learn your system and infrastructure to adopt foreign migrants integrated into society,” he said.

To this end, the forum’s proposal suggests helping foreigners learn Japanese as the best way to “see that they do not form ethnic clusters within local communities, thereby generating communication gaps, misunderstandings or hostilities in their relations with the Japanese society or other groups of foreigners”.

The report advocates heavily subsidised Japanese learning and ensuring that municipal governments work to help migrants to settle in and establish their new lives in Japan.

Mr Ito envisages that most of the migrants would be from China, whose citizens have the advantage of knowing most of the kanji characters in use in the Japanese language.

Japan has had several tries at establishing an economic or labour-orientated migration program. The first was the disgraceful coercion of Korean migrants to speed up its pre-war industrialisation. The second was the wave of returnees it accepted from the expatriate Japanese communities in Brazil and Peru to satisfy the labour demands of its factories during the bubble economy period of the early 1990s.

The Korean community has faced prejudice but has largely prospered in Japan, although animosity remains between some Japanese and Korean-Japanese. The Latin American returnees have perhaps endured less prejudice, but are still looked down upon by some Japanese because of their jobs.

These attempts at integration were obviously not perfect, but Mr Ito said he believed Japan’s people and politicians were ready for another try.

“I feel the interest on the part of politicians on this topic is very high and keen, and public opinion will, I think, basically welcome our recommendations, though some people are concerned about the political and social consequences of too radical a shift, particularly in view of what’s happening in western European countries,” he said.

Mr Ito said Japan also needed to boost the tiny number of humanitarian migrants it accepted.

“I think Japan should be ashamed for the reluctance it has shown in taking humanitarian migrants,” he said.

The forum’s report has been 18 months in the making and has almost 90 signatories, including top academics, business leaders, former diplomats and ministerial officials and several current and former politicians.

As well as handing it to Prime Minister Kan, the group has also taken out newspaper ads drawing public attention to its contents.

Group Appeals for Overhaul of Japanese Immigration

A powerful group of politicians, academics and business leaders is set to launch an unusual campaign to urge Japan to pry open its doors to foreigners, saying the country’s survival hinges on revamping its immigration policy.

Japan has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in the world, and the debate over whether to allow more foreigners to settle in the country has long been a contentious, politically charged issue for the nation. But recently, calls to allow more foreign workers to enter Japan have become louder, as the aging population continues to shrink and the country’s competitiveness and economic growth pales in comparison with its neighbor to the west: China. A minuscule 1.7% of the overall Japanese population are foreigners, compared with 6.8% in the United Kingdom and 21.4% in Switzerland, according to the OECD.

The 87-member policy council of the Japan Forum of International Relations, a powerful nonprofit research foundation, will on Thursday launch a half-page advertisement in the country’s leading newspapers, urging Japan to rethink its immigration policy. They also submitted their policy recommendations to Naoto Kan, the country’s prime minister.

“If Japan wants to survive in a globalized world economy and to advance her integration with the burgeoning East Asian economy, she essentially has no other choice but to accept foreign migrants,” the advertisement says.

The policy council has issued several recommendations, including allowing more skilled workers to enter the labor market, particularly in industries where there are shortages of domestic workers, such as construction and the auto industry. Under economic-partnership agreements with Indonesia and the Philippines, Tokyo has allowed nurses and nursing-care specialists from these countries to enter Japan, but applicants are subjected to a grueling test in Japanese that only three people have passed. The council says these tests have to be made easier.

“Foreign employment may create employment for the Japanese—it’s bridging Japan with the rest of the world,” said Yasushi Iguchi, a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University and a member of the policy council.

Despite Japan’s stance that it doesn’t accept unskilled foreign workers, these days, Chinese cashiers are a common sight at Tokyo’s ubiquitous convenience stores; South Asian clerks are becoming more plentiful at supermarkets and on construction sites. Their ability to work in these positions is often thanks to numerous loopholes in Japan’s immigration policy, which allows students studying in Japan to work a certain number of hours a week. The country also has a technical internship program that allows younger workers to come into Japan and work as a “trainee” for a year, though this has been maligned as a cheap way to exploit foreign workers and pay them menial wages.

Mr. Kan’s government has said it wants to double the number of high-skilled foreign workers as part of its strategy to revive Japan in its growth strategy report compiled in June. The government is eyeing the introduction of a points-based system, in which it gives favored immigration treatment to foreigners depending on their past careers, accomplishments and expertise. The government also aims to increase the number of foreign students to 300,000 through initiatives such as allowing them to accept credits earned in foreign colleges and accepting more foreign teachers.

But this doesn’t mean more foreigners will necessarily want to come to Japan: in 2009, the number of foreigners who live in Japan fell for the first time in nearly half a century. Only one group bucked the trend: the Chinese, one of the few minority groups to increase its presence last year. Chinese nationals now make up nearly a third of Japan’s foreign population.

“If we stop discussing this and stop reforming, our system will be inadequate to cope with the realities,” said Mr. Iguchi. “In rural areas, we can’t maintain local industries—it will increase our competitiveness.”

Woes of foreign nurses, caregivers in Japan

Jusuf Anwar, Indonesian ambassador to Japan, has bewailed the overly stringent Japanese national examinations for foreign caregivers and nurses. Out of the 500 Indonesians who took the examinations in 2008 and 2009, only two have passed and have become certified nurses.

Anwar revealed this concern at the “First Public Forum on Indonesia” held on July 23, 2010 at the Kyoto University Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

The problem, he said, is the “kanji” character proficiency part of the examinations. An added burden is that when they fail their exams on the third try, the nurses are obliged to leave the country immediately.

The examinations are part of the criteria introduced by the Tokyo government in line with the Indonesia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (IJ-EPA) provision on allowing foreign caregivers and nurses to practice their profession in Japan. The IJ-EPA took effect in 2008 but two years after, Ambassador Anwar said he doubted its usefulness unless the examinations can be made less rigid to enable more Indonesian nurses and caregivers to qualify.

He urged that, rather than emphasizing the “kanji” writing abilities of the nurses, the examinations should concentrate on the competence and technical abilities of the examinees. On this point, Anwar was certain that more Indonesian nurses would easily qualify, given their past experiences working in Japan, even if only in a “kenshusei” (trainee) capacity, and from the gathered testimonies of their patients. And for those who fail, they should be allowed to stay and work for at least one year rather than abruptly ending their employment, Anwar added.

Observers see Japan’s decision to allow the certification of foreign nurses and caregivers as being prompted by concerns over the country’s rapidly aging population and the lack of competent professionals to care for elderly Japanese.

The Japan Times has reported that more and more senior Japanese are left to fend for themselves and many die alone in their homes. The Times reported that in Tokyo alone, “People over 65 who died alone in their residence, including by suicide, stood at 2,211 in 2008, compared with 1,364 in 2002.”

The Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry has denied any connection between “accepting foreign caregivers” and “the manpower shortage in health care.” This is belied, however, by a health ministry survey cited by the Times that shows “about 60 percent of hospitals and about 50 percent of welfare facilities that have accepted Indonesian candidates (say) they offered them jobs hoping to improve staff levels.”

Philippine nurses, too

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) announced in early 2009 that Japan was poised to hire 1,000 foreign nurses and caregivers over the next two years subject, of course, to their passing the language proficiency examinations.

This was a concession included in the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA).

The woes of Indonesian health care practitioners resonate in the case of their Filipino counterparts. Since the Philippine program began last year, only one Filipino, Ever Lalin, has successfully hurdled the Japanese tests.

In May 2010, Japan Today reported that another batch of 116 Filipino nurses and caregivers left for Japan to undergo a six-month language and cultural course after a screening program that the POEA described as “more rigorous.”

During this training program, the Filipinos will receive a monthly allowance of $400 (about P18,400). Those who pass the Japanese certification and become regular nursing or caregiver staff will get a salary of $1,600 (about P73,600) or more a month.

Nursing associations in both Indonesia and the Philippines have expressed dissatisfaction with their respective EPAs with respect to the hiring of nurses and caregivers to work in Japan.

In a position paper issued as early as 2007, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA), through its president, Dr. Leah Samaco-Paquiz, said that the JPEPA “shortchanges the professional qualifications of Filipino nurses and exposes them to potential abuse and discrimination.”

Dr. Paquiz cited the Japan Nursing Association’s own call for reforms and improvements in their own country’s nursing system in terms of “improving the working conditions, salaries, and benefits of Japanese nurses before Japan allows the entry of Filipino nurses.”

Dr. Paquiz also pointed out that Indonesian nurses under the IJ-EPA “got a better deal” compared to Filipino nurses, as the former are required to have “only three years of formal nursing education and only two years of work experience,” and are not required to pass an Indonesian licensure examination before they are allowed entry into Japan. Filipino nurses, on the other hand, “are required to have had four years of formal nursing education plus three years of work experience, in addition to having passed the licensure examination in the Philippines.”

The major gripe of the PNA, however, centers on the degradation of the Filipino nurses’ position in that, despite having acquired “four years of higher education…, proof of competence via a Philippine license to practice…(and) three years of solid work experience,” the nurses will end up simply as trainees under the supervision of a Japanese nurse for up to three years until they pass the Japanese licensure examination.

Dr. Paquiz adds: They also risk having virtually zero employment rights in Japan as they are considered neither employees nor workers under Japan’s Immigration Control Act. Specific provisions committing Japan to international core labor standards and the protection of the rights of migrant health workers are also absent in the agreement.

The PNA also decried the high language skills required, noting that they “constitute an almost impregnable barrier” to the nurses’ entry. Given these “unnecessarily stringent requirements, (Filipino nurses) will most likely end up providing cheap labor and quality nursing care as nursing trainees in Japanese health care facilities.”

Dr. Paquiz ends the PNA’s position with the plea not to commoditize the nursing profession by classifying nurses as a mere economic category under the JPEPA.

Unfair labor?

The PNA’s fears appear to be confirmed by Emily Homma, a resident of Saitama prefecture who has been assisting Filipino nurses and caregivers. In a February 11, 2010 letter to the Japan Times, Homma charges that the JPEPA has “placed many Filipino nurses and caregivers working in Japan in a miserable situation where they are subjected to unfair labor practices, extreme pressure to pass licensing exams in Japanese, cramped living conditions, and poor salaries.”

On the other hand, the Indonesian National Nurses Association, through its president, Achir Yani, “has called on the Japanese government to be more flexible in the national nursing exam….”

Yani, a University of Indonesia professor, also suggested that a “kanji” pronunciation aid be allowed and that the examinees be given four chances (instead of three) to pass the tests.

Kyodo News reports that Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada had met with Indonesian and Filipino officials in January 2010 and promised “to consider addressing the language issue for foreign nurses.”

At the July 2010 forum at Kyoto University, however, Ambassador Anwar said he has repeatedly raised this issue with the Japanese government but his efforts to have the examination rules relaxed have been in vain.

And given the niggardly passing rate for Indonesian nurses and caregivers, Ambassador Anwar says that “the future of the program to alleviate the problems associated with Japan’s aging society is not so bright.”

Japanese premier vows to help RP nurses, road users

Communications Strategy Secretary Ricky Carandang said that during the [17th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] talks Friday night, [Japanese Prime Minister Naoto] Kan promised to help make it easier for Filipino nurses to pass Japanese exams so that they could work in Japan under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement.

Carandang told reporters that one of the options was to train the Filipino nurses to speak Japanese even before they leave for Japan and before they take the exam.

He noted that the language barrier was what made it hard for Philippine nurses to enter Japan.

“They recognize that. They want to use simplified characters, they want to use abbreviations that are more internationally accepted so that our nurses could be easily accepted in Japan,” he said.

The strict language requirements under the JPEPA is one of the points of contention in the controversial agreement, with the Philippine Nurses Association saying that the high language skills required was an “almost impregnable barrier” and could lead to Filipino nurses ending up providing cheap labor as nursing trainees in Japanese health care facilities.

Japan befuddled by elderly care debate

Wahyudin dreams of becoming a full-fledged caregiver, if not a certified nurse, in Japan. But the Indonesian worker must first pass the required Japanese-language national certification examination, which is far from easy.

Until then the 29-year-old Wahyudin, a registered nurse in his home country, will remain a caregiver trainee in an elderly-care facility in Yamada city in western Tokushima prefecture, where he has worked since arriving in Japan two years ago.

“It’s a long shot but there is no other way I can push my career forward and build a stable future [unless I pass the test],” Wahyudin, who uses one name, said of the examination.

Passing it would give him the professional caregiver status thatwould allow him to be hired by any hospital or nursing home in Japan. He can also expect higher compensation.

The language examination is designed to ensure integration into Japanese society and meet professional standards, but few foreigners manage to pass it. Now, those who work with the elderly in one of the world’s fastest aging societies say it is time to take a second look at this requirement, given Japan’s rapidly growing need for caregivers, many of whom come from overseas.

“Expecting foreign caregivers and nurses to pass the difficult examination in Japanese is unfair and smacks of discrimination,” said Tsutomu Fukuma, spokesman for the Japanese Council of Senior Citizens Welfare Service, a leading nursing care provider.

“The system has disappointed them and many are giving up on staying in Japan, which is not what we want,” he said.

As it is, the Health and Welfare Ministry says the number of Japanese caregivers, most of them middle-aged, is declining. There were 350,000 workers in the healthcare system in 2009, down from 400,000 three years ago. Younger Japanese are not entering the sector.

Japan has 13 million people aged over 75, or 10% of its population of 127 million. In 2025, that age group is projected to grow to 22 million people – and the government predicts that the country will need more than two million caregivers by then.

This is why Japan has been turning to foreign caregivers, but they are not finding it easy to stay for too long in the country. At present, foreign nurses and caregivers are allowed to work in Japan for a maximum of three and four years, respectively. During this period, they must study Japanese and pass the certifying examination that they can take only once.

Because Japan is officially a closed labor market to foreigners, it has different agreements with countries that allow a certain number of “trainees” each year to come work for specified periods of time.

Wahyudin, for instance, came under an economic partnership agreement (EPA) signed between Japan and Indonesia in 2008. A similar pact was signed with the Philippines, another major provider of caregivers here, in 2006.

There are 570 Indonesians and 310 Filipinos working in nursing or elder homes in Japan. A total of 254 have taken the nursing examination, but only three – two Indonesians and one Filipino – have passed and acquired full-time employment status.

Among others, caregivers and nurses seeking professional certification in Japan are lobbying the government to allow foreign examinees to use dictionaries during the test to help them with unfamiliar technical terms and Kanji or Chinese characters, one of three scripts used in the Japanese language, or Nihongo.

But beyond the examination itself, caregivers rue the limited time they have to study the language.

“It’s really hard for us to reach the level of language needed to successfully sit for the exam,” said Wahyudin, who has just one hour or so a day to review his Nihongo owing to his busy work schedule. He is getting formal language training, but he said this is far from adequate even with the six-month government-subsidized language course.

The situation of the elderly in Japan also reflects changing norms that have seen more young adults living away from their aging parents. In fact, the number of Japanese who are over 65 years old, living alone and with no one to look after them, numbered more than 4.6 million as of June 2009.

To many, this highlights even more the need for more caregivers, but not everyone agrees.

Professor Keiko Higuchi, a member of the government panel of welfare advisors, said Japan’s caregiving system should instead encourage the elderly to lead more independent lives. “I am not against accepting foreign caregivers or nurses. But before we start opening the doors [to them], Japan must ensure that its nursing care for the elderly continues to focus on helping them to help themselves,” she said.

Yukiko Okuma, a well-known author on nursing care for the elderly, sees Japan’s EPAs with Indonesia and the Philippines as a quick fix.

“The EPA with Indonesia is a quick remedy for the labor shortage we face in the welfare sector. As a result, we now have a system that faces the risk of lowering Japan’s nursing standards to accommodate more Asian nationals who are themselves not treated fairly under the scheme,” she said.

Okuma adds that today’s situation is also a product of a society where women, especially wives and daughters-in-law, have traditionally taken care of aging parents, leading to “a poorly recognized and underfinanced welfare system” in Japan.

“Japan’s welfare for the elderly must be viewed as a national priority, where workers are treated well by giving them good salaries, paid vacations and other employment benefits, whether they are Japanese or Asians,” she said.

Caregivers sent to Japan under EPA get hand to overcome language hurdle

The Philippine government has begun language classes to help nurses wanting to go and work in Japan overcome the high language barrier, and even pays them to enroll.

The project is aimed at boosting the rate of Philippine applicants who pass Japan’s national nursing examination and increasing the number of nurses seeking a career in Japan under the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the two countries.

During one recent Japanese class, a teacher held up a panel with kanji for difficult words, such as “roasha” [聾唖者] (the hearing impaired) and “nenza” [捻挫] (sprain), while the students read the words aloud in unison.

In February, 59 Philippine nurses made their first attempt at Japan’s national nursing exams; only one passed. If nurses on the EPA program fail to pass the exam for three straight years, they must return home.

Questions have been raised over the current EPA arrangement, which offers foreign nurses only six months of Japanese language lessons.

The EPA between Japan and the Philippines took effect in December 2008. In May last year, the Philippines began dispatching nurses and caregivers to Japan. Under the EPA deal, Japan accepts up to 1,000 such nurses and caregivers for two years, but only 436 have been sent so far.

In Japan, the high cost of getting foreign nurses up to speed because of the language hurdle has deterred some potential employers from hiring them. The EPA will be reviewed next year, and Tokyo likely will seek to tweak the current system.

Viveca Catalig, a deputy administrator at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, acknowledged his country’s own effort has its limits, and said he hopes Japan will consider expanding its language training and easing requirements for nurses in order not to disappoint motivated Philippine applicants.