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As ASEAN Works to Ease Movement of Professionals within Southeast Asia, Approaches Taken in Europe, Americas & Beyond Offer Lessons
Press Release
Wednesday, February 8, 2017

As ASEAN Works to Ease Movement of Professionals within Southeast Asia, Approaches Taken in Europe, Americas & Beyond Offer Lessons

New Report by MPI, Asian Development Bank Latest in Series

WASHINGTON — Facilitating the movement of high-skilled workers from one country to another presents opportunities for regional integration, as well as for host-country labor markets and the workers themselves. As Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Member States work to ease the movement of professionals, the experiences of other countries hold promise for policymakers and licensing bodies in Southeast Asia as they deepen implementation of mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs) that seek to establish a uniform and transparent way of recognizing the qualifications of foreign workers.                                                                                                                   

A new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) report,Reinventing Mutual Recognition Arrangements: Lessons from International Experiences and Insights for the ASEAN Region, analyzes different routes to mutual recognition, as well as progress and challenges in MRA implementation. The MPI researchers review seven case studies from Europe, North America, the Caribbean and the Asia-Pacific and examine the effectiveness of MRAs in other regions, identifying possible lessons for ASEAN Member States.

Between 2005 and 2014, ASEAN Member States signed MRAs in the tourism sector and six regulated occupations (accountancy, architecture, dentistry, engineering, medicine and nursing). As explored in an earlier MPI-ADB report, the design of these MRAs differed and their implementation remains incomplete.

Although MRAs have been around internationally for more than 100 years, distinct approaches have emerged in response to a growing demand for labor mobility: All-inclusive models that cover most occupations, narrow ones limited to specific occupations and sectors, and umbrella approaches that outline guidelines for future MRA negotiations.

“MRAs are dynamic, multidimensional, multilayered international instruments,” the authors write. “No two MRAs are alike, even those that follow the same approach.”

Still, the authors note that the international experience with MRAs offers key lessons:

  • The harmonization of training standards is difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain, requiring relentless commitment and vast resources.
  • Centralized MRA systems require huge resources to implement, while a decentralized approach, although less resource intensive, is difficult to monitor.
  • Partial recognition of qualifications in lieu of automatic recognition can only be effective if guidelines for compensatory measures are clear and not unnecessarily complex.
  • Umbrella agreements offer a promising, alternate approach to MRA negotiations—but only if there is political will at the highest levels to support regulatory bodies and professional associations.
  • MRAs are living documents that require constant revision, improvement and even periodic renegotiation.

“As a latecomer to the world of MRAs, the ASEAN region has the opportunity to create a new generation of MRAs based on the most informed notions of how professionals today build, develop and utilize skills,” the researchers conclude.

The report is the latest in a joint ADB-MPI project that aims to improve understanding of the barriers to the free movement of professionals within ASEAN and to support the development of strategies to overcome these hurdles. A pair of final reports, assessing the pace of implementation of the seven Asian MRAs and situating the drive towards intraregional mobility within the mega-forces that are poised to transform the supply and demand of skilled professionals across the ASEAN bloc, will be published in the weeks ahead.

The reports draw on the insights of nearly 400 current and former ASEAN and Member State officials, private-sector employers, academics, training directors and others. These insights were gleaned through participation in focus group discussions, meetings and surveys conducted in multiple ASEAN countries.

For more of MPI’s work in Asia and the Pacific, visit: www.migrationpolicy.org/regions/asia-and-pacific

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.