The ASEAN Framework Agreement on Services (AFAS) was signed on 15 December 1995 by the ASEAN Economic Ministers, allowing for Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA) in various professions and an agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons (MNP)
The AFAS aims to significantly eliminate restrictions to trade in services and to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of ASEAN services suppliers
The ASEAN Agreement on the Movement of Natural Persons (MNP) on the other hand and the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) are intended to streamline business visa procedures for citizens within the ASEAN Member States.
AFAS provides guidelines for ASEAN Member Countries to progressively improve Market Access and to ensure equal National Treatment for services suppliers within ASEAN.
ASEAN currently has MRAs that facilitate the mobility of professionals for six sectors, and framework agreements in place for two more:
The ASEAN Agreement on Movement of Natural Persons (MNP), an area of cooperation in trade in services which entered into force in 2016. Those engaged in the trade of goods and services, investors, business visitors, contractual service providers, and intra-corporate transferees are given easier access for temporary cross-border stay.
AFAS is recognized as a good practice, negotiated through government-to-government arrangements, facilitating regional mobility, allowing for the mutual protection of interests of the migrants and of sending and receiving states.
Constraints and challenges
There are variations in each MRA which make standardization difficult within each sector.
An engineer, who must already hold a license issued by the regulatory body of the country of origin, must also have at least seven years of experience in the field. An application must be processed through the ASEAN Chartered Professional Engineers Coordinating Committee before being permitted to work as a “Registered Foreign Professional Engineer.”
For the tourism sector, however, the case assessments have been eliminated, allowing for automatic recognition for 32 tourism-related occupations.
Even with the occupations governed by MRAs, horizontal and vertical mobility are limited.
These MRAs also offer no protections for unskilled migrant workers.
Visa standards, even with the MNP and ACIA, are not uniform across the region.
Even within the short list of professional fields covered by MRAs, the entry-point can be difficult. Some companies who wish to engage foreign workers are required to demonstrate that there will be a transfer of skills and knowledge to local employees, who are expected to eventually be replaced by locals. Others require companies to prove that the position cannot be filled by local employees. Some even have constitutionally barriers for foreigners practicing certain occupations.
MRA on Engineering Services (9 December 2005);
MRA on Nursing Services (8 December 2006);
MRA on Architectural Services and Framework Arrangement for the Mutual Recognition of Surveying Qualifications (19 November 2007);
MRA on Medical Practitioners and MRA on Dental Practitioners (26 February 2009);
MRA Framework on Accountancy Services (26 February 2009) and subsequently as MRA on Accountancy Services (13 November 2014); and