E.g., 09/28/2016
E.g., 09/28/2016

A ‘Freer’ Flow of Skilled Labour within ASEAN: Aspirations, Opportunities, and Challenges in 2015 and Beyond

Policy Briefs
December 2014

A ‘Freer’ Flow of Skilled Labour within ASEAN: Aspirations, Opportunities, and Challenges in 2015 and Beyond

Countries’ competitiveness, productivity, and growth depend largely on their ability to acquire and use new knowledge and constantly upgrade the skills of their workforces. Many countries do not, however, have the educational systems necessary to cultivate the kind of workforces they need, and in developing countries it is common for the most highly skilled workers to emigrate for job opportunities abroad.

Over the past decade, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a political and economic organization of ten countries in Southeast Asia, began to tackle these issues directly. In 2007, ASEAN Member States agreed to fast-track the creation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015, which is meant to transform the region into a single market and production base characterized by, among other things, a free flow of skilled labor. In response to the mounting evidence that migrants in the region lack the skills recognition required to put their knowledge and training to use in destination countries, ASEAN Member States are taking steps toward better qualifications recognition to prevent the resulting waste of human capital.

The approach embodied in the AEC is different from the notion of free labor flows understood from common practice in Europe or the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Instead of aiming for the unrestricted "free" flow of skilled labor, the AEC seeks to facilitate a "freer" flow, primarily through the implementation of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) that establish qualification frameworks and facilitate temporary visa issuance for individual occupations.

This issue in brief, the eleventh in a series by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and the International Organization for Migration's Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, explores ASEAN Member States’ goals versus the challenges they face. It also examines the opportunities the region could stand to lose now and in the future if these challenges remain unmet. While the agreement sounds promising on paper, realities on the ground—including the fact that around 87 percent of intra-ASEAN migrants are low-skilled workers, the prevalence of irregular migration in this region, and the flow imbalances among states—could complicate realization of the AEC's already limited aspirations.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Free Flow or Freer Flow? The Emerging Policy and Regulatory Landscape

III. Aspiration versus Reality

IV. Turning Aspiration into Reality: Three Key Challenges

V. Gaining from the Free Flow of Skilled Labor