Photo/IllutrationA Filipino caregiver with an elderly at a nursing home in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward in June 2017 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Foreign nationals seeking work in nursing care will be required to have stronger Japanese skills than their peers in other industries as an ability to communicate will be crucial in performing the job properly.

The Japanese proficiency requirement for caregivers was proposed Dec. 18 at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s first meeting on the outline of a new system to accept foreign workers.

The number of foreign workers who will be allowed to work in nursing care under the new visa status of “specified skills” is estimated at 60,000 over five years from April.

It is higher than that for other 13 fields, such as agriculture, fisheries and construction, which will also accept more foreign workers under the specified skills category, according to the government.

Care providers are primarily responsible for the safety of elderly people receiving services at nursing homes and other facilities as well as providing assistance in bathing, at mealtimes and for bowl movements.

They also are expected to share information on care recipients with other staff members to improve the overall level of care.

As a result, aspiring foreign care workers will be required to pass two Japanese language ability tests.

First, they will need to pass either a newly set test, tentatively called “Japanese standard assessment test,” or attain a certain level in the existing Japanese-Language Proficiency Test.

In the latter, test-takers must demonstrate daily conversational ability in Japanese when spoken to slowly.

In addition, they will have to pass another test, yet to be established, to evaluate their command of caregiver terminology.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is expected to provide the bulk of questions for the envisaged examination.

The exam will likely test applicants’ comprehension of technical phrases such as “jokuso,” which means “bedsores,” as well as expressions related to palate such as “shoppai,” which means “salty,” and mimetic words used to describe physical conditions and mood, such as “kurakura suru,” which means “feeling giddy.”

Of the 14 industries, only those who hope to work in nursing care will be required to succeed in the two exams.

Concerns have been raised within the LDP that setting the bar too high in Japanese proficiency in nursing care may discourage foreign nationals from seeking work.

But the LDP agreed to the additional Japanese language test on the basis of a health ministry report that many workers at nursing homes contended that applicants’ knowledge of terminology used in care cannot be adequately assessed by existing Japanese proficiency tests.

Officials in the care industry welcomed the new requirement.

“Requiring Japanese skills is imperative so that both care recipients and caregivers will be able to avoid friction,” said an official.

Caregivers should also have a good grasp of Japanese customs and practices, said an official with a separate industry group.

“They ought to understand that in Japan, people routinely wash their hands as a result of widespread hygiene education,” the official said.