TOKYO - A Diet committee on Friday approved bills to enable foreign trainees to take nursing care jobs in Japan, paving way for their enactment in the current Diet session as the rapidly graying country will face a serious shortage of personnel in the industry in coming years.
The two bills -- one on proper training of foreign interns and the other on amending immigration laws -- call for expanding the scope of work foreign trainees can assume, despite concerns about a decline in the quality of service and harsh working environments.
While the Japanese government has explained the reason for the change as "responding to the needs of aging Asian countries," it will effectively help Japan make up for an estimated lack of 380,000 care workers in 2025.
Currently, Japan only accepts foreign care workers from Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam under economic partnership agreements with these countries. But the number of such care workers has remained limited.
Countries like Vietnam and Mongolia have been urging Japan to allow foreign trainees to assume nursing care jobs.
As the enactment of the bills would lead to a surge in the number of foreigners in the field, some worry the quality of the care service may decline due to language barriers.
In addition, lawyers are concerned the new system does not offer sufficient protection for the interns.
As a slew of human rights infringements have been unveiled, the bills call for setting up a watchdog to investigate organizations and businesses accepting foreign interns. But the Japan Federation of Bar Associations calls for scrapping the scheme, saying such a measure would not resolve the issues fundamentally.
In 2014, the labor ministry checked some 4,000 organizations accepting interns and found more than 70 percent of them have violated laws on working hours and safety standards.
Japan introduced the Technical Intern Training Program in 1993 with the aim of transferring Japanese skills to developing countries to help them grow. But the scheme has faced criticism both within and outside Japan as a cover for securing cheap labor.
The number of foreign trainees has been on the rise, with the figure standing at roughly 210,000 as of the end of June.