Vietnam needn’t fear AEC free flow of skilled labour

VOV.VN - The birth of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) earlier this year has raised the spectre among many in Vietnam that it could result in a massive influx of foreign workers competing for the better paying jobs over coming years.

Certainly, skilled workers in Vietnam need to prepare to face increased competition in the employment market from their peers in other AEC member countries, says Deputy Minister of Education and Training Bui Van Ga.

It has been a long-standing precept of the Vietnam government to devise a legal framework conducive to attracting highly talented foreign students and professionals to compete in the Vietnam marketplace, the Deputy Minister told VOV in a recent interview.

The emergence of the AEC among the 10 member nations of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam created a new economy, the globe’s seventh largest, 625 million people strong.

A core tenet of the AEC, said Deputy Minister Ga, is the free flow of skilled workers and three groupings of arrangements to this effect have already been given effect, to at least some limited extent.

The first are the mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs), for which Vietnam has agreed to recognize the education, experience, licenses, or certifications obtained in any of the AEC countries for the engineering, nursing, surveying, architecture, medicine, dentistry, tourism and accounting professions.

The second arrangements pertain to the streamlined visa and employment preferences that the Vietnam government affords professionals and skilled workers engaged in cross-border trade.

Last of all, are the arrangements related to enhancing cooperation among government funded universities in the AEC aimed at increasing the mobility of both students and university faculty throughout the region.

It is important to emphasize, said Deputy Minister Ga, that the target of having the free flow of labour in the AEC applies singularly to skilled workers and does not extend to those semi- or unskilled.

Vietnamese needn’t fret that the nation’s economy will become inundated with cheap unskilled or uneducated workers from other ASEAN countries thus pushing tens of millions of workers out of their jobs.

However, there could be a relatively large inflow of workers at the senior to mid-level management level or professionals with great competence in, for example, segments of the economy such as tourism.

The creation of this wider talent pool should have a positive influence on both the private and public sectors of the economy as skilled foreigners can transfer knowledge and experience to their domestic counterparts.

It remains to be seen at this time whether ultimately Vietnam and the AEC will provide fully for the free flow of all skilled labour irrespective of profession.  Currently this free flow is only sanctioned for occupations in 12 specifically delineated economic segments.

These priority 12 segments are – tourism, healthcare, logistics, aviation, communication and information, agriculture, wood, rubber, automotive, clothing and textiles, electronics and fishing.
Deputy Minister of Education and Training Bui Van Ga
Before the Vietnam government can fully loosen its regulations regarding the employment of foreign citizens, the AEC member nations collectively need to harmonize standards and rules (including reciprocal rules) in the 12 priority segments through MRAs.

Currently, the member nations have only managed to reach MRAs in eight out of the 12 priority segments. However, Deputy Minister Ga pointed out that only in tourism has the free flow of skilled workers been fully implemented.

The other seven segments still need more political debate and research.

There are a host of complex issues such as minimum years of experience requirements, labour market tests, pre-employment requirements, health clearances and numerous other domestic immigration and professional matters that still remain to be addressed by the respective governments of AEC members.

It should also be noted, Deputy Minister Ga emphasized, that the best estimates are that 87% of all current intra-ASEAN migrant workers are low-skilled workers who do not fall into any of the 12 priority categories.

As such, their employment is largely unaffected by the AEC laws and regulations that are applicable to only skilled workers.

There is some legitimacy to the concerns of many that a ‘brain drain’ of highly educated workers away from other AEC members to Vietnam, particularly those with good English language communication and other interpersonal skills could occur.

Everyone in the government is acutely aware that Vietnamese foreign language skills are substandard when compared to other AEC member nations and the government is actively pursuing a number of alternatives to rectify the imbalance.

All in all, it will require some real effort, substantial reform and considerable time before the ASEAN region will see the free flow of skilled labour in the 12 priority segments come to fruition.

The list of reasons why the AEC is unlikely to move quickly to further facilitate the movement of all workers – not just skilled workers – is a long one, said Deputy Minister Ga.

However, the focus should be on the opportunities the AEC will now provide – the wider talent pool, increased mobility for certain professionals – that will most certainly serve as a catalyst for further positive change for the nation as a whole.

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