The Japanese government plans to ease language requirements for foreign technical interns to work in the nursing care business as part of efforts to bring in more laborers from abroad, government sources said Wednesday.

Japan opened up its nursing care sector for foreigners who are willing to work as trainees from November 2017. But the number of such trainees has grown at a sluggish pace apparently due to the Japanese language proficiency requirements, which have been set higher than interns in other sectors.

Currently, the care workers are allowed to extend their stay on the condition that they pass a certain level of a Japanese language test a year after they arrive in Japan. If they fail, they have to return to their own country.

But the government now plans to allow the workers to stay two additional years as long as they express their willingness to continuously study the language, according to the sources.

The change in the system could go into effect possibly in March, they said.

The move comes as Japan struggles with a labor crunch in the face of an aging population and falling birthrate. From April, it will introduce a new visa system that would broaden the entry of foreign workers, including for the nursing care sector.

Japan introduced the technical intern program for foreigners in 1993 with the aim of transferring skills to developing countries.

Having added the option of care workers to the intern program, the Japanese government has been expecting many applicants from countries such as Vietnam to engage in the job to assist the elderly in their daily activities, such as getting dressed or eating meals.

But only about 250 were serving as care workers as of October last year.

Technical interns can stay up to five years. But the scheme has been criticized for providing cover for companies that want to import cheap labor.

Those who have gone through the existing technical intern program for more than three years will be able to obtain a new visa status to be created from April, and the government expects many interns to apply for the visa.