UP TO 340,000 foreigners are expected to work in Japan over the next five years as a result of a new government plan, which took effect on Monday.

Those who switch their status from technical intern trainee to Type 1 certificate holder, which designates a specific skill, are expected to make up half of the total.

Unlike trainees, Type 1 certificate holders can switch jobs. Amid these changes, employers are making concerted efforts to retain their staff.

“You look very well. Would you like some tea?” asked a trainee working at a nursing home in Saitama prefecture’s Fukaya City earlier this month.

Trainees working at the Enzeru no Oka (angel’s hill) facility spoke to residents with a smile while helping them eat.

“People living in the home looked perplexed at first, but I now feel that they are opening up to me,” said Sri Lankan trainee Monali Tasheema, a 21-year-old who came to Japan last September.

Four Sri Lankan and three Chinese trainees currently work at the facility.

Katsumikai, the Fukaya-based social welfare corporation that operates the facility, said it had difficulty recruiting staff the past couple of years and began hiring foreign trainees last September.

The trainees help the elderly residents bathe, eat and use the restroom, doing the same work as Japanese employees. However, they often experience stress due to the language barrier and nervousness, and the facility holds monthly evaluation sessions in which Japanese staff listen to their concerns.

“We have a system where we provide care to our trainees when they have difficulties and help them to work in a foreign country,” said Shigeki Ito, the facility’s managing director.

Enzeru no Oka plans to hire personnel with Type 1 status. Those who have completed three years of training can transition to the status without taking an examination, and can work another five years in Japan.

The facility plans to upgrade the status of staff who began their training at the facility with no previous experience, as a means of addressing its labour shortage.

Competition heats up

Competition to secure foreign technical intern trainees is intensifying among local governments and businesses who operate outside urban areas.

Many such trainees are expected to start working as labourers with specific skills – a new residence status created under the revised law to accept more foreign workers into Japan. Some local governments and businesses have stepped up their efforts to secure personnel by visiting countries that dispatch trainees.

Masayoshi Koshio, mayor of Kanagawa prefecture’sAyase City, where many metal-processing companies and factories are based, travelled to Hanoi last November to visit such places as agencies that dispatch technical intern trainees to Japan.

“If we don’t make any efforts, the foreign workers will all go to Tokyo,” Koshio said.

Prompted by such concerns, the AyaseCity government is currently devising a framework for accepting foreign interns into member companies of the local chamber of commerce.

Ibaraki prefectural governor Kazuhiko Oigawa said: “There’ll be competition for foreign workers across the nation. We need to take action.”

The Ibaraki prefectural government on Monday opened an office that matches foreign workers with local companies, among other forms of assistance.

The prefectural government will also encourage interns who have already left Japan to return to the prefecture.

Oigawa is considering visiting Myanmar, which has a limited record cooperating with local governments in Japan on the acceptance of its workers. THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK