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Borderless Labor Migration Continues to Elude ASEAN

on . Posted in News @ UP Asian Center

Among the highlights of the Philippines’ year as ASEAN chair was the signing of the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers. The Consensus, signed on November 14 by the region’s heads of state, was hailed as a breakthrough toward resolving conflicting interests between ASEAN migrant labor-sending countries and migrant labor-receiving countries. However, a labor migration expert cautioned that much needs to be done to move the process forward.

A study conducted by Dr. Geoffrey Ducanes, under the University of the Philippines Asian Center’s “Asia in Transition” research program, noted that the Consensus may have a bigger impact on overall labor market integration because, in principle, its scope is broader and includes lower-skilled workers, which form the bulk of intra-ASEAN migration. The study, however, also cited continuing challenges especially among countries with a very wide disparity in governance, regulatory frameworks, as well as educational and training institutions.

According to Ducanes, the implementation of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA), the main tool of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) to facilitate labor mobility among skilled labor (e.g., engineering, nursing, and architectural services) would require some degree of standardization of national and ASEAN Qualifications Frameworks as well as in addressing opposition from professional associations within countries and the requirements to pass an examination in the host countries. Moreover, the ASEAN Consensus is non-binding, covers undocumented workers only to a limited degree, and provides highly contingent rights to migrant family members. As such, the study finds that the Consensus contains more aspirational rather than operational statements.

Ducanes thus suggests that there is a need for countries to continue to work on bilateral or corridor-specific negotations to advance migrant worker rights, which can then “serve as jump-off points for multilateral negotiations.” He also advised that there is a need for sending countries to adopt a two-pronged approach of: one, providing better training and host-country support for their migrant workers; and, two, improving economic opportunities at home to lessen pressure for migration. 


The UP Asian Center offers M.A. degrees in Asian Studies with four fields of specialization: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. The Center also has an M.A. program in Philippine Studies that allows students to major in Philippine society and culture, Philippine foreign relations, or Philippine development studies. The Center offers a Ph.D. program in Philippine Studies in conjunction with the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. Get an overview of these programs. The Asian Center also houses a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia. It has published several books and monographs, and hosts or organizes various lectures and conferences

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