Photo/IllutrationA sign for a Japanese language test for applicants to work in Japan under the new "specified skills" visa system held at Ateneo de Manila University in Manila on April 13. (Akiko Suzuki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MANILA--In hopes of obtaining the new "specified skills" working visa, more than 100 Filipinos on April 13-14 took the first tests to work in Japan aimed at helping the nation alleviate its chronic labor shortage.

Details of the tests, which are about nursing care and given at Ateneo de Manila University in the capital, were not known as media outlets could not enter the examination site nor interview test-takers.

There were 125 applicants accepted to take the tests, where the slots were filled on a first-come basis.

The tests assess the applicants' nursing care skills and Japanese ability.

The Japanese government is wooing prospective workers in nursing care, construction and 12 other sectors mainly from the Philippines and eight other Asian countries under the new visa program introduced this month.

Successful Filipino applicants are expected to start working in Japan this summer at the earliest.

Among the hopefuls is a 28-year-old clerk in Manila, who gave Joy as her name. Although she could not sign up for the first tests, she plans to take them, possibly in late May, as she wants to work in nursing care in Japan.

“Japan is a country providing the easiest access,” Joy said. “I want to earn money right away to support my family. And I am hoping that I can work as long as possible.”

She could not take the inaugural examinations because the 125 slots were quickly filled.

After graduating from college, Joy passed a national exam that granted her a license to work as a nurse.

But she could not land a position as a nurse as competition is tough.

From her monthly pay, she sends 3,000 pesos (about 6,400 yen, or $58) each month to support her mother who lives in the countryside.

Working overseas is nothing new for Filipinos. The Southeast Asian country has been known as a leading exporter of workers, with about 2.3 million Filipinos working around the world.

According to an estimate, some 19,000 Filipinos leave their country annually to work as a nurse abroad.

Canada and Australia are among the popular destinations for Filipino nurses as they can earn salaries several times higher than here.

But Japan is a country that highly qualified nurses would have little interest in primarily due to the low pay, according to Tetsuya Ishikawa, a Japanese who works for a job placement agency in Manila.

Joy had initially toyed with the idea of working in Canada and other countries, but she gave it up after being told that she would need 1 million yen ($8,900) for the initial costs, including placement fees and producing a balance statement showing that she has 500,000 yen in her bank account.

But the bar set by Japan is not high, compared with those countries. Those who hope to work in Japan under the specified skills working visa system do not need long work experience in the field they plan to work nor have to pay much up front.

Joy believes she has good prospects for passing the exams, given that she already has studied Japanese.

“Many Filipinos, facing financial difficulties, are eager to work immediately to earn money and have high expectations for the specified skills working visa system,” Ishikawa said.

The government expects up to about 340,000 foreign workers to enter Japan over the next five years in the 14 sectors, which face serious manpower shortages. One of the two categories under the new specified skills working visa system allows foreign workers to stay up to five years in Japan.

For aspirants, they have to pass both a test that evaluates their professional skills and Japanese language proficiency.

In principle, the Japanese government plans to hold those exams in nine partner countries--the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepal and Mongolia.

But few details have yet to be decided over when the tests will be given in which country.

A key reason for the delay is efforts to conclude an agreement with those countries to screen and weed out trouble-making intermediaries are not going as smoothly as the Japanese government anticipated.

With Japan being unable to gain full cooperation from the partner countries, Japanese ministries and agencies that have oversight of each of the sectors for foreign workers with specified skills cannot move on to the testing stage.