Japan to Review Foreign Worker Regulations to Ease labor shortage in Care Sector

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry

The government is considering expanding the scope of duties foreign carers can perform to alleviate chronic labor shortages in the nursing care sector, it has been learned.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to review current regulations, including a rule that blocks foreign workers from conducting home visits.

As of the end of October 2022, there were 54,161 foreign workers in the welfare sector, including nursing care, according to the ministry.

In 2017, nursing care was included in the government-sponsored technical intern training program for foreign nationals, and in 2019, a “Specified Skilled Worker” residence status for foreigners was introduced, covering 14 industries, including nursing care.

As a result, there has been a sharp increase in the number of foreign personnel working at intensive elderly-care facilities established by non-profit organizations and local governments.

Due to concerns about Japanese language skills, foreign carers working in Japan under the program or skilled worker status are not allowed to engage in services that involve home visits, or work at fee-based facilities established by private firms and rental housing that offer elderly care services.

However, Japan is facing a severe shortage of nursing care workers. According to the labor ministry, there were 3.58 nursing care job openings for every applicant as of February. For home-visit nursing care service providers, the figure was 14.99 for every applicant, far exceeding the average of 1.27 for all occupations.

In a 2021 nationwide survey by the Care Work Foundation, 80.6% of nursing care facilities reported a shortage of home-visit care workers. A total of 8,809 valid responses were received.

The lack of personnel has prompted calls in the industry to allow foreign carers to conduct home visits. In the ministry’s planned review, it will consider changing rules that block foreign workers from certain duties.

Care workers who conduct home visits help elderly residents eat meals, bathe and use the toilet, among other things. As well as assisting with daily tasks such as cooking, laundry, and cleaning, carers also help patients get in and out of vehicles when visiting hospitals.

As concerns have been expressed about the possibility insufficient Japanese language skills will limit the capacity of foreign personnel if no Japanese staff are around to support them, the conditions under which they are able to work are likely to be a focus of discussions in the ministry’s review.

A government expert panel is currently conducting a review of the trainee program and a final report is expected this fall.

The ministry will decide on the details and timing of its review of foreign care worker regulations based on the expert panel’s report and opinions from industry groups in the nursing care sector.