WASHINGTON — Seeking to encourage the flow of skilled professionals among Member States, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed agreements over nearly a decade meant to speed the mutual recognition of professional and academic qualifications in a number of occupations.
These mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs), which set standardized rules across Member States for recognition of credentials and limit or eliminate national discretion to assess foreign qualifications — and thus reduce roadblocks to the movement and employment of professionals across the region — span the tourism sector and six regulated occupations (accountancy, architecture, dentistry, engineering, medicine and nursing). Though the agreements share nearly identical objectives, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) report explores the significant divergence of these MRAs in terms of institutional structures, requirements and procedures.
The report, Open Windows, Closed Doors: Mutual Recognition Arrangements on Professional Services in the ASEAN Region, compares the different approaches taken with each of the MRAs, the factors that shaped their development and their tradeoffs and policy implications. The authors also examine how ASEAN can maximize the potential of MRAs to build and utilize human capital in the long term.
The MRAs range from the open framework in the tourism sector, which provides a fully automatic recognition process, to the virtually closed, destination country-led frameworks in the dental, medical and nursing professions, which offer minimal opportunity for recognition.
“The greatest achievement of the ASEAN MRAs so far is rather indirect: The signing of these agreements has inspired a significant capacity-building effort in the less-advanced ASEAN Member States to upgrade professional regulation and training standards,” said MPI Senior Policy Analyst Dovelyn Rannveig Mendoza, the report’s lead author.
Implementation of the MRAs in engineering and architecture has driven the creation of regulatory bodies and the adoption of new professional standards in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. Similarly, the MRA-driven harmonization of training requirements in nursing is promoting higher qualifications standards in countries such as Vietnam.
Among the areas to further maximize the benefits of MRAs, the report notes the potential to link the MRAs with existing mobility arrangements in the region and to create synergy with the ASEAN Qualification Regional Framework and apply the lessons learned to the negotiations of future MRAs.
“MRAs remain a work in progress in the ASEAN region,” said MPI President emeritus Demetrios G. Papademetriou, who is leading the research project with ADB. “But as the experience with the current MRAs shows, they could do much to usher in the advent of skilled mobility envisioned by the ASEAN Economic Community if implemented in full and accompanied by buy-in from employers and professionals alike.”
The report is the latest in an MPI-ADB joint 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. Additional reports to be published in the weeks ahead will examine the implementation status of each of the seven ASEAN MRAs, examine the history of MRAs beyond Southeast Asia and situate 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.
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. MPI Press Release, 11 January 2017
The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ASEAN Trade Union Council.
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