Japan has always been a famously closed society, almost to the point of legend. This closed nature has traditionally meant a very hard time for foreign immigrants to Japan. Combine that with a population that, government estimates say, will shrink from 127 million to 90 million over the next 50 years (that’s 30%!), while its population ages demographically. Most shrinking populations do that, unless they’re shrinking because of plague — and sometimes even then.
An interesting article by Hiroku Tabuchi in today’s New York Times discusses this widespread problems being called by Japan’s unwillingness to bring in immigrants as skilled workers to combat its ongoing problems — particularly in the healthcare arena, which is the sector in which the U.S. is having similar problems.
Specifically, Japan is suffering from a lack of nurses — but the test required to extend nursing visas in Japan is so tough that “…only 3 of the 600 nurses brought here from Indonesia and the Philippines since 2007 have passed.” The Japanese government, says Tabuchi, “…is actively encouraging both foreign workers and foreign graduates of its universities and professional schools to return home while protecting tiny interest groups.” In this case it’s the local nursing association that fears a drop in salaries from immigrant nurses. The Times quotes the chairman of a medical services company that recruits foreign nurses as saying, “The exam is to make sure the foreigners will fail.”
This nursing shortage may sound kinda familiar to those of us in the United States, which also suffers from a shortage in nurses. An article in Business Week discusses the eagerness of hospital administrators to hire nurses from the Philippines to cover their chronic shortages of nurses. But back in 2009, President Obama said, “The notion that we would have to import nurses makes absolutely no sense,” citing high unemployment. According to an article in NumbersUSA.com:
The nursing labor unions also oppose an increase in foreign nurses because it would undermine the country’s own nurses while taking qualified nurses away from other countries. The nurses’ unions say importing foreign nurses can lower incentives for health care facilities to improve the current nursing conditions, which has led to 500,000 trained nurses not working in the field.
“If unemployment is spiking, why do we need to bring in nurses from another country?” said Ann Converso, president of United American Nurses. “We believe thousands and thousands of RNs would rejoin the profession if conditions improved. We have to again allow nurses to do what they do best: care for human beings.”
Oh, but, back to Japan. In much the same way that many of the students who come to the U.S. to study technical fields like engineering, nursing or medicine end up returning to their home countries, only a small percentage of foreign technical students in Japan are able to stay after graduation. Says the Times:
In 2008, only 11,000 of the 130,000 foreign students at Japan’s universities and technical colleges found jobs here, according to the recruitment firm, Mainichi Communications. While some Japanese companies have publicly said they will hire more foreigners in a bid to globalize their work forces, they remain a minority.
…Foreigners who submitted new applications for residential status — an important indicator of highly skilled labor because the status requires a specialized profession — slumped 49 percent in 2009 from a year earlier to just 8,905 people.
The overall problem as it pertains to healthcare is that an aging, shrinking population means fewer people to take care of the oldsters as they enter the most healthcare-intensive phase in their life. This makes Japan’s shortage of health care personnel potentially one of its most urgent problems (after the possibility of North Korean nukes, natch).
The answer? Zombie nurses, of course, as illustrated at the top of this post.
They’re young, they’re hungry, and they work for braaaaainnnnzzz.