Regional Compact

The global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration (GCM) is an international endorsement of states’ collaboration and cooperation. No treaty or convention related to migration has received such overwhelming support. States choose to act out of their own volition. Countries are empowered because they have the power of choice; they can freely feed their desire to improve migration governance, without any legal obligation. More importantly, states have the opportunity to collectively fulfil the global needs of migration. There is a common framework; there is a common benchmark; there are common goals and aspirations. There is hope for migrants. 

An endorsed global framework could pave the way for regional compacts for migration. After all, countries within a region share more similarities; they have close proximity to one another. Regardless of the level of diversity, states within a region have no choice but to learn to live in the same neighbourhood. The stronger the intra-regional relationships, the stronger the region. ASEAN is no exception. 

Southeast Asian states have come together for trade, defence, security, education and cultural collaborations. However, cooperation is not optimal in matters concerning human mobility. The mutual recognition arrangement among member states facilitates the mobility of migrants in selected high-skilled professions. Even then, each state has different processes of taking in these ‘recognised’ migrants. In some cases, national requirements can be arduous and discouraging. Low-skilled migrants make up about 95 percent of intra-regional mobility. Regrettably, there is no robust common framework to manage this flow.

ASEAN has conducted workshops, forums and high-level meetings on migrants. It even has a charter and a convention in which migrants’ rights are mentioned. But there is no regional authority to ensure that migrants have access to rights; there is no collective body to monitor migrant management. Member states have full sovereign power to design policies governing migration. At any cost, ASEAN is determined to preserve its underlying principles of non-interference and consensus.

The Southeast Asian region is extremely diverse. Misunderstandings could easily be blown out of proportion. Too much is at stake to even consider the possibility of a trace of hostility. However, despite these risks, ASEAN can still do more to improve migration governance; not as individual states, but as one regional authority. Coming together for a common purpose will not be enough. Common action is needed. A regional body managing migrant flow should be held accountable for all migration-related matters. Instead of member states, the collective authority should address any non-compliance; otherwise, it would lose credibility.

If a regional authority is inconceivable at this time, perhaps ASEAN could function as a clearinghouse for MOUs and bilateral agreements, so that inconsistencies are prevented. This could be a starting point from which other policy areas could be covered in future. ASEAN’s potential committee or authority could also craft common standards for migrant recruitment and thus improve coordination between sending and receiving states. 

Another crucial area that requires urgent attention is the portability of social protection rights. If ASEAN can set a common benchmark for protection, informal migration is likely to decrease. Potential migrants have one less reason to take the irregular path. 

Given the large youth population in the region, student migration is another important area for a consolidated policy. More student mobility will increase the level of expertise in the region. Given the rise of the fourth industrial revolution and the predicted future demand for intangible work skills, ASEAN should adapt by adopting a unified approach to encourage student migration. Likewise, there should be a collective effort to recognise more migrant skills at all levels. Such measures would strengthen regional collaboration and economic development in the migration process. The GCM should be an inspiration for a future ACM (ASEAN Compact for Migration).

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