WASHINGTON, D.C. (Feb. 15, 2017) — Given diverging demographics, rising educational attainment and wide variation in economic opportunities across Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is poised to see an expansion of both the demand for and supply of skilled migrants willing and able to move. The convergence of these megatrends represents unique opportunities for human-capital development and brain circulation within Southeast Asia, as a new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) explores.
The report finds the promise of greater skill mobility depends on a proactive regional response to two pressing challenges: Brain drain and brain waste. With the number of college-educated ASEAN emigrants in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries rising from 1.7 million in 2000 to 2.8 million in 2010-2011, brain drain is recognized as an obstacle to economic and social development. Brain waste, or the underutilization of highly skilled workers, remains an understudied issue in ASEAN.
The ADB-MPI report, Firing Up Regional Brain Networks: The Promise of Brain Circulation in the ASEAN Economic Community, examines the current state of knowledge regarding skilled mobility and the impact of labor force, demographic, economic and social change on mobility of skilled workers (referred to as brain circulation in the report); and explores the challenges imposed by brain drain and brain waste.
The MPI researchers find that a number of developments in the region are encouraging brain circulation, including growing awareness that foreign professionals play an important role in regional economic growth, an expanding ASEAN educational infrastructure and the fact that efforts to mutually recognize professional qualifications from one ASEAN Member State to another are beginning to bear fruit. The Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRAs) that Member States have signed to facilitate the intra-regional mobility of skilled professionals in the tourism sector and six regulated occupations (accounting, architecture, dentistry, engineering, medicine and nursing) are the subject of a series of reports MPI and ADB have issued recently. Close to 15 million ASEAN workers are employed in these professions, accounting for about 5 percent of total regional employment.
“Whether ASEAN can enter the age of brain circulation—legal, organized, efficient, multidirectional and beneficial mobility for both sending and receiving countries as well as for skilled migrants themselves—is far from certain,” said MPI Senior Policy Analyst Jeanne Batalova, the lead author of the report. “Many challenges remain, including ongoing brain drain to OECD countries, newly emerging patterns of brain waste within the region and technical challenges to implementing the ASEAN MRAs.”
The report identifies some key issues that must be addressed to help expand mobility of the highly skilled in the region:
The researchers also find that the regional brain network is expanding and that more skilled workers are moving to other ASEAN countries, including those with lower income levels than the wealthiest countries of Brunei Darussalam and Singapore.
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. The series will conclude with a final report assessing the pace of implementation of the seven ASEAN MRAs. 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/
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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