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.