E.g., 06/30/2016
E.g., 06/30/2016

Achieving Skill Mobility in the ASEAN Economic Community: Challenges, Opportunities, and Policy Implications

Despite clear aspirations by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to create an effective framework to facilitate movements among skilled professionals within the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by December 2015, progress on the ground has been slow and uneven.

The challenge ASEAN Member States face is threefold. First, the complexity of the qualifications recognition process essentially discourages professionals who move within the region from having their professional and academic credentials assessed and recognized. Second, professionals face restricted access to the ASEAN labor market due to national-level barriers such as constitutional provisions reserving particular occupations for nationals, and complex and opaque requirements and procedures for employment visas. Finally, many professionals themselves have limited interest in moving within the region due to perceived cultural, language, and socioeconomic differences. All this is partly reflected in the fact that the region is a net exporter of labor in the global market. The region contributed 18.8 million labor migrants in 2013, with 6.5 million of them moving within ASEAN. Despite these real and perceived barriers, the AEC aspiration to facilitate a “free flow of skilled labor” is a timely policy goal for ASEAN in line with the major demographic, economic, and social changes that are sweeping not only across the region but worldwide. The ASEAN region risks falling behind in a competitive and skills-driven global economy unless real progress is made in this area.

This report launches a multiyear effort by MPI and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to better understand the barriers to freer movement of professionals within ASEAN and develop strategies to gradually overcome these hurdles. It lays out a realistic roadmap toward freer movement for the citizens of the region for the next decade and beyond. It proposes a two-pronged strategy: first, ASEAN Member States need to cooperate in the short to medium term to fully address the immediate challenges in recognizing the qualifications of mobile professionals and increase their access to the region’s labor market. Second, governments should also take a longer-term view by investing in national training and education systems that prepare workers in accordance with common ASEAN-wide standards. True progress often comes in fits and starts but a sustained effort and commitment at the highest levels is always required.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. High-Skilled Mobility in the ASEAN Region: Where Are We Today?

III. Managing the Flow of Skilled Labor in ASEAN: Progess and Challenges in 2015 and Beyond

A. Making Qualifications Portable within ASEAN

B. Improving Access to the ASEAN Labor Market for Professionals

C. Promoting Intra-ASEAN Mobility among Professionals

IV. Opportunities for Reform: Building Greater Regional Cooperation on Education and Mobility

A. Short-Term Strategies: What Can We Do Now?

B. Looking to the Longer Term: Thinking of Human Capital as a Shared Regional Resource

V. Building a More Competitive ASEAN and Investing in Human Capital

VI. Conclusion