Photo/IllutrationA Filipina passes the first national exam to become a certified care worker held under the economic partnership agreement in 2012. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Faced with a whopping caregiver shortfall in the next five years, Japan is using a new visa for foreign applicants who failed their caretaker's and nurse's exam to allow them to remain in Japan.

The government is thinking about giving such candidates who come to Japan under the economic partnership agreement (EPA) a second chance to work in the country under the new “specified skills” working visa, valid for a maximum five years.

Certified care worker candidates who came here under the EPA but failed their exam, are already permitted to become caregivers by switching to that visa.

According to the labor ministry, fiscal 2025 will likely see a shortfall of about 340,000 caregiver positions.

Under the specified skills visa that took effect on April 1, the caregiver industry is forecast to accept 60,000 foreigners over five years. Given that low number, it is still not clear when the understaffing situation will be resolved.

Visas based on the EPA are intended for foreigners who aim to become certified care workers or nurses, while working in those fields in Japan. If they pass Japan’s national exams for the certifications, they can renew their caregiver visas with no limit.

But care worker candidates who fail are limited to staying in Japan for five years maximum. Nursing candidates who fail must leave after four years.

Between fiscal 2008 when the EPA started and fiscal 2018, about 4,300 candidates to become certified care workers came to Japan from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

A total of 1,724 took exams for certification. But 739 people, or 40 percent, failed.

In May, the government decided to permit care worker candidates to change their visa status to the No. 1 category of the specified skills work visa, if they met conditions such as scoring at least half of the passing score.

The change will enable care workers who failed their exams to stay for a total of 10 years, using their original five-year EPA visa plus the new five-year No. 1 category of the specified skills work visa.

The government has been considering allowing nursing candidates who failed to do the same.

A total of 1,300 candidates came to Japan to become nurses between fiscal 2008 to fiscal 2018 from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Less than half, 413, passed their exams.

While studying for their certificates, nursing students work at medical institutions and assist patients with going to the toilet and taking baths. Since they learn the basics of caregiving, the labor ministry thinks they can easily switch professions.

Other visa categories are available for foreigners who want to work as caregivers in Japan.

Trainees can work a maximum five years as caregivers on a foreign technical trainee visa.

There is also a caregiver visa, renewable with no limit, for foreign students who studied at training schools in Japan and passed a national exam for certified care workers not based on the EPA.

The government plans to let foreigners change their initial visas to caregiver visas if after gaining more than three years' experience as foreign technical trainees or specified skill workers, they pass the national exam to be certified care workers.