Japan faces a nursing shortage. The nation has the world's oldest
population but not enough young people to help care for them. Now Japan
is loosening up its immigration policies and turning to foreign nurses
to help make up for that deficit.
Mila Bustalino has
worked many jobs during her 20 years living in Japan. After migrating
from the Philippines, she cleaned houses, washed dishes and babysat for
wealthy families so that she could send money to her own family back
But for the past two years she has worked at a nursing
home, taking care of elderly Japanese. She gives a few examples of what
"Serving them their food snacks, giving them a bath, so our main reason, to make the old people happy," she said.
Soon, Bustalino may have more Filipino co-workers.
May, around 300 trained nurses and caregivers from the Philippines will
arrive in Japan and begin working at hospitals and homes for the
But their recruitment, which is allowed under a
free-trade agreement Tokyo signed with Manila three years ago, has come
under fire from the Japan Nursing Association. It says the Filipinos
might not have sufficient training or understanding of Japanese culture
to work as caregivers. Plus, it says, they will take jobs away from
skilled Japanese nurses.
But many of the imported workers may
wind up doing basic care-giving jobs in nursing homes - bathing and
feeding patients. The pay for this work will far exceed that of trained
nurses working the Philippines, but many labor analysts say most
Japanese do not want this type of low-paying, low-skilled job.
Schultz, senior economist at the Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo,
says Japan needs its young workforce in higher paying professions, to
increase the tax base that goes to support senior citizens.
society has a major aging problem, this means there needs to be
services for aged people. This is usually not a high-wage,
high-productivity sector, in many countries this sector is covered by
immigration, by low-wage immigrants," he said.
But Japanese nurses are not the only ones who are cautious about inviting Filipinos to work here.
Tanizaki is director of the Philippines Center, a support group for
migrant workers in Tokyo. She worries that Filipino nurses will have
few opportunities to advance their careers in Japan and just be
regarded as cheap labor.
"My concern, being a Filipino, is that
too difficult for Filipinos. Although, I am not undermining the
intellectual capacity of these Filipino nurses, but I think they are
better off in English-speaking countries where they can express their
talents, their abilities and they are freer to work and they will be
happy," she said.
Caregiver Mila Bustalino says those concerns
are exaggerated. She notes the Filipino nurses will receive language
training and says they can adjust easily to their new environment.
She adds that the salary here makes up for any of the problems the Filipino workers might encounter.
"If you have the courage or interest to learn more, come to Japan, you will get more money," she said.
Japan's experiment in allowing foreign nurses to work here does not
work out, there may be other options in a few years. The government is
supporting research to create highly skilled, care-giving robots that
could start working at nursing homes within five years.