WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 15, 2017) — Beginning in 2005, Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began signing agreements to speed the mutual recognition of professional and academic qualifications in a number of occupations across the 10-country bloc. While mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs) have been signed in seven occupations and progress is being made toward an eighth, full implementation has yet to be realized.
In fact, as a new Migration Policy Institute-Asian Development Bank report finds, progress in the operationalization of the MRAs “remains painfully slow and uneven across countries and for all occupations.” The result is that the greater mobility for highly skilled professionals envisioned by ASEAN and the ASEAN Economic Community remains far from realization, MPI Senior Policy Analyst Dovelyn Rannveig Mendoza and ADB Principal Economist Guntur Sugiyarto write in the report, The Long Road Ahead: Status Report on the Implementation of the ASEAN MRAs on Professional Services.
The report draws on the insights of nearly 400 current and former ASEAN and Member State officials, private-sector employers, academics, training directors and others to assess the state of implementation for each of the MRAs (which cover the accountancy, architecture, dentistry, engineering, medicine, nursing and tourism occupations), as well as the status of the framework towards an MRA in surveying. While the report finds progress in the creation of necessary implementing offices and bodies at regional and national levels, and the incorporation or transposition of MRA principles into national laws, much work remains to be done to operationalize MRA principles into detailed regulations, plans, procedures and mechanisms that professionals can utilize now.
The report finds that the MRAs on engineering and architecture have gone farthest in terms of creating a working process that ASEAN professionals can utilize in order to get recognized and registered in another ASEAN country. However, 10 years into implementation, just seven engineers had completed that process and registered in the country of destination—and none had yet moved for work.
Among the barriers to progress? Restrictive domestic regulations, local or English language proficiency requirements, requirements to pass national licensure exams and limited lists of recognized institutions for degree holders seeking recognition. “Many professionals are essentially going through the qualification process twice, first at the ASEAN level and then again with the destination-country regulatory authority,” the report finds.
The report reveals that many governments lack the institutional capacity to implement the MRAs. And wage disparities and poor working conditions in some areas have generally discouraged professional movement.
The authors identify a number of opportunities for cooperation, including testing ways to reduce restrictive domestic regulations that limit the ability of MRAs to facilitate mobility and a coordinated approach to increasing regulatory capacity building at both the national and regional level. “With a renewed focus on capacity building and an appetite to learn by doing … the ASEAN region can create a strong foundation now, even though key building blocks are not yet in place,” they conclude.
The report is the final one 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. Earlier reports compared the different approaches taken with each of the seven ASEAN MRAs, examine the history of such accords beyond Southeast Asia, situate the drive towards intraregional mobility within the mega-forces that are poised to transform the supply and demand of skilled professionals across the bloc, and lay out a realistic roadmap toward freer movement for the citizens of the region for the next decade and beyond.
These reports and other MPI work in Asia and the Pacific can be accessed here: www.migrationpolicy.org/
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 the local, national and international levels.
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